From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know For a Successful Freshman Year

From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearIt’s hard to believe that just six years ago, I was packing up my childhood bedroom and moving to Orlando for college. At times, I still picture myself as that awkward 18-year-old girl who was so excited to take those first few steps toward adulthood. In many ways, mine was the traditional college experience: four years of changing majors, making friends, hosting theme parties, interning around town, cramming for finals, dating the wrong guys and joining more clubs than a sane person should. My undergraduate years still hold some of my favorite memories, and taught me more about myself than I ever cared to know.

For many of you, those first few days of freshman year are just around the corner, and you’re probably having a lot of mixed feelings. Whether you’re nervous, enthusiastic or somewhere in between, this blog will guide you through some of the most important aspects of your college experience, from A to Z.

A – Appearance
As superficial as it may sound, it’s important to put an effort into your appearance! Your university’s dress code may technically allow you to roll into your lecture hall in pajamas… but that doesn’t mean you should. The way you dress plays a big role in the first impression you give off in class, among new friends and in front of professors and potential employers.

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From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearB – Books
Unless your professor requires some special edition that isn’t offered elsewhere, don’t buy your books at the school bookstore. Rent them through third-party vendors, visit local used bookstores or buy your books online. It will save you a ton of money in the long run!

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C – Choosing a Major
Don’t worry if you don’t have it figured out right now. Take some time to enjoy your general education classes and to take an introductory course that interests you. For more tips on how to choose the right major for you, click here.

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D – Dorm Life
This may be your first time sharing a bedroom or bathroom with someone, so make sure you talk to your new roommate(s) about your expectations and responsibilities. A new dorm room is also the perfect excuse to decorate, so have fun personalizing your new home!

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E – Extra Credit
If your professor offers extra credit, always do it. You might not think you need it, but when your grade is dangling at an 89 at the end of the semester and you need that extra point, you’ll thank yourself.

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From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearF – Friends
Open yourself up to the possibility, and you might meet your best friend in college. Get involved, talk to people in your classes and in the dorms, say yes to social outings and don’t be afraid to step out of your bubble.

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G – Greek Life
Rushing a fraternity or a sorority can be a great way to make an overwhelmingly big university a whole lot smaller. If the idea of Greek sounds interesting, talk to older friends who have gone through the process and decide if it’s right for you!

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H – Health
Above all, you must prioritize your health. Avoid the typical Freshman 15 weight gain with these helpful pointers, and remember to take care of yourself when illness strikes. Utilize the gym, health center, counseling facilities and other campus resources to maintain your physical and mental health. Because college can be a stressful time for many, staying healthy and happy is often at the bottom of our lists.

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I – Independence
If you are living in a dorm room or away from home, college is a great opportunity to test out your newfound independence. It will be fun to make more of your own decisions and to not have a curfew, but it will also teach you the importance of finding a balance.

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From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearJ – Joining Clubs
Joining clubs on campus will allow you to meet likeminded people, have a good time and possibly even develop yourself professionally. It’s a great way to connect with your university and find leadership opportunities early on. Find organizations that interest you and attend the info sessions – you have nothing to lose!

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K – Kindness
This should go without saying, but remember to treat others with kindness. You’ll meet people whose lifestyles, beliefs and upbringings are radically different from yours, so it is important to be openminded and still respect others regardless of your differences.

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L – Learning For Learning’s Sake
You’ll get so wrapped up in prerequisites and major classes that you might forget that college is, among other things, a place to learn. Take a few elective classes in areas that interest you regardless of what requirements they fulfill. Enjoy the act of learning.

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M – Mentors
Find an older student, a community member or a professor who inspires you, and turn to that person as a mentor. This is a great way to start building your network, and you’ll also have someone to ask for advice on classes, internships and more. If you don’t know where to start, see if your school offers any organized mentorship programs to pair you with someone!

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From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearN – Networking
I cannot stress the importance of networking enough! It may sound terrifying, but it doesn’t have to be. Get to know people every chance you get. You never know who will be able to help you out in the future — or whom you’ll be able to help. Networking helped me land a job right out of college! Read more about my experience here.

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O – Office Hours
Your professors are required to hold office hours, so attend them. They can be a great resource when the class material just isn’t clicking, and it’s always an added bonus for the professor to put a face to your name.

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P – Partying
Enjoy having a social life, but learn to do so responsibly. Remember why you came to college in the first place.

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Q – Quiet Space
Find your quiet space on campus for when you need to study or simply get away. Whether it’s the top floor of the library or a secluded corner of a campus garden, find that quiet space and use it when you need it.

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From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearR – Romance
Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who meets your soulmate on the quad that first week of school, you’ll probably have your share of good and bad relationships in college, and that’s okayFrom every “failed” relationship, you’ll learn something – or at the very least, you’ll have a good story to tell. (My exes had better beware of my memoir! 🙂 ) Enjoy the ride.

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S – School Spirit
Soak it up! Wear your university colors, attend sporting events and be proud of the institution you attend. Don’t pretend you’re “too cool” for it. The time will eventually pass and you’ll wish you’d enjoyed yourself more.

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T – Time Management
Find an organizational style that fits you, and use it. Having strong time management skills will allow you to balance classwork, extracurriculars, work and a social life. The more you hone these skills now, the better prepared you will be for the future!

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U – Unique Opportunities
In college, the world is your oyster. If an opportunity sounds too good to pass up, take it! Study abroad for a semester. Volunteer in another city for an alternative spring break. Run for student government. Take advantage of these opportunities while you’re still in school, as they might never come back around once you graduate.

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V – Values
Be true to yourself. Know what is important to you, and keep that close to your heart as you make decisions in college. Don’t let others push you into something that makes you uncomfortable or puts you in danger.

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From A to Z: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Freshman YearW – Wallet
Learn how to budget and take care of your finances. Learn to live within your means. Your money habits now will shape the way you spend and save long after you graduate.

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X – eXams
The dreaded exams will pop up every semester at least once, so it’s important to prepare for them. For more on how to survive your final exams, check out my article on Career Camel.

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Y – You Time
Take time for yourself. College can be a very social environment, and I encourage you to take advantage of that, but it’s always good to spend some time alone without worrying about others. “Treat yo self” to a night in every now and then, or focus on putting together that DIY Pinterest project you’ve had your eye on. Making time for yourself will help you maintain your sanity when life gets stressful.

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Z – Zero Tolerance
Love yourself enough not to tolerate negative treatment. Have zero tolerance for the people or situations that make you feel lesser than. If a friendship or relationship is making you miserable, leave. If you dread being part of a certain organization, quit. Life is too short to waste on people who treat you like crap.

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Best of luck to all of those starting college this fall! Readers, what are your tips for incoming freshmen?

Discover Your #DormStyle: Designing the Perfect Ocean-Inspired Dorm Room

Source: Wayfair.com

Source: Wayfair.com

With the summer just flying by, many of my readers are already gearing up for the upcoming fall term. For some of you, it will be your first semester in college, and with that comes many adventures: choosing your major, meeting new people and getting involved on campus! When I was a student, one of my favorite experiences was living in the dorms and in student-affiliated housing. Not only was it a great opportunity for me to make friends and live away from home for the first time, but it also gave me the chance to decorate my brand new space!

Flash forward to two years after I graduated from college, and I still love to decorate. Earlier this month, I moved into a brand new apartment, with decorations partially inspired by Old Hollywood and partially inspired by my love for all things aquatic. (Hello, I am a Floridian!) As part of Wayfair.com‘s #DormStyle campaign, I’ll be sharing my tips for designing the perfect ocean-inspired dorm room. 🙂 Feel free to share your favorite findings or your own personal dorm style in the comments section below!

  • Bedding
    Your bedding will set the tone for your entire dorm room, so you’ll want to do it right! For a fabulously aquatic dorm, stick with blues, greens and white. I love this comforter set from Wayfair (pictured above), even though it isn’t explicitly nautical. The fun shapes and colors are still subtle enough to go with your other fixtures and decorations, but still exciting enough to draw the eye.
  • Wall Decorations
    Another great way to show off your dorm style is with fun wall art. Aquatic canvases are definitely in vogue, and you can find some unique pieces at your local off-price stores if you’re willing to dig through the home goods sections. Everyone who has been to one of my parties knows about my unapologetic love for seahorses (I literally hosted a “seahorse seashell party” for my 22nd birthday), so naturally I gravitate toward those art pieces that feature seahorses. These gorgeous Etsy pieces are handmade and add some texture to the mix.
  • Light Fixtures
    Depending on your dorm room setup, you might not get a whole lot of natural light in the room, so light fixtures are a must! A basic floor lamp like this one from Target can (quite literally) light up your whole room. Pick a blue that matches your bedspread or a white shade that is a little more neutral.
  • Organizers
    You’ll be limited on space when you move into the dorms, so you’ll definitely want to invest in some organizers. These bins from Kohl’s are adorable and will help you save some space. Look for bins with similar color palettes or patterns to your overall theme, while still neutral enough to keep around if you decide to switch to a new theme.
  • Miscellaneous
    When you’re shopping, consider pieces that feature anchors, ship wheels and sea creatures. Browse your favorite home goods stores, look for inspiration on Pinterest and check out Wayfair for more #DormStyle posts. Have fun when decorating your dorm room and be creative! The world is your oyster. (Get it?) 🙂

For more dorm room essentials, check out my list of must-haves. You won’t regret it!

The Freshman 15: Tips for Studying Abroad

Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True

A much-needed gelato run on a hot summer day in Rome!

Exactly three years ago, I was having the time of my life in Europe. It was the summer before my senior year of college, and I had embarked on a short-term study abroad program focused on international events and festivals in London, Paris and Rome.

Rereading that paragraph, Post-Grad Val is incredibly jealous of College Val right now.

Studying abroad was an amazing experience, and my only regret was not doing it sooner and for a longer period of time. Once you graduate from college and begin working in the real world, finding time and funds for travel can be a lot more difficult, and you’ll find yourself wishing you followed your wanderlust when you still had the time and scholarships.

If you are currently in college and have a healthy thirst for adventure, you’ve probably already added studying abroad to your university bucket list. After all, it’s a great opportunity to travel the world and immerse yourself in a culture that may be different from your own!

For those considering studying abroad in college, check out my fifteen tips for choosing the right program and making the most of your experience.

The Freshman 15: Tips for Studying Abroad

15 Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True1. Talk to friends and classmates who have already been there.
One great thing about college is that you’ll likely cross paths with people who are either: a) well-traveled, b) from another country, or c) all of the above. Because of this, if you’re interested in participating in a language immersion program in Spain this summer, it’s likely that you already know someone who has been to Spain or participated in this type of program. Talk to those people and ask them questions about what to expect and how their experiences were. Chances are, they can give you a lot of information that you won’t read in the program description or travel guide book. If you can, try to get as much information as possible from a peer’s point of view.

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2. Evaluate your needs.
Before signing on to a particular program, think about what you’re looking for. Can you commit to a semester-long program, or would you rather do something shorter term? Do you want to receive class credit? Do you need a program that will fulfill an internship requirement? Ask yourself these questions ahead of time to help pinpoint the right program for you.

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3. Consider the costs.
Your program description might include a set cost, but does that cost include airfare, lodging, travel within the country, or food? Is the program part of a university course? Will you be paying tuition as well? Factor in all of these possible expenses when deciding if the program fits your budget.

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15 Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True4. Look at other colleges and universities in your state for options.
If your university doesn’t offer a program that interests you, another one might. Check the study abroad websites for other colleges in your state to see what programs they have and if the credits can be easily transferred to your school.

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5. Seek out scholarships.
Many universities offer study abroad scholarships for those who seek them. The trouble is, many students don’t realize that these scholarships are out there! Through a little research on my own, I was able to secure a small study abroad scholarship through one of the departments on campus. All you have to do is apply… worst case, you’re no worse off than when you started!

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6. Consider a program that relates to your major or career goals.
Studying abroad is an awesome travel experience, but don’t forget that a key part of studying abroad is “studying.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be stuck in a classroom all day, but keep in mind that the study abroad experience should be educational. For the amount of money you’ll be shelling out, you probably want to look into programs that will either be applicable to your degree program (or grad school goals) in some way or that will make you more marketable in the workforce.

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Tips for Studying Abroad7. Research the country and its culture ahead of time.
It’s important to have some knowledge of the history and culture of the place where you will be living for the next few weeks or months. Not only will this help you to determine whether or not this program is the right choice for you, but it will also be helpful information for you once you arrive. Have a basic awareness of the country’s current events, its famous dishes and its customs.

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8. Learn the language.
Do I expect you to become fluent in French by the time you arrive at the De Gaulle airport? No. However, it’s important to learn some of the basics — hello, goodbye, please and thank you are a great place to start. My French is atrocious (I’m much more fluent in Spanish, but my French accent is only passable if I mumble), but every day, I made sure to say a cheerful “Bon jour” and “Au revoir!” to the kind staff members at the hotel where we stayed in Paris. Attempting to use the country’s native language is a sign of respect, and it makes you more of a gracious guest. Of course, some programs do require proficiency in the country’s language, so be aware of that when you compare programs.

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9. Get to know your program administrator.
Contact the faculty person in charge of the program before signing up with any questions you may have. This person has likely been through the program before, and he or she will be able to help guide you through the process or help you determine if the program is right for you.

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Tips For Studying Abroad | So it Must Be True10. Figure out your mode of communication.
This was something I neglected to do prior to my study abroad program, and it was a major source of stress for me. (It was also before I had an iPhone, so I couldn’t rely on WiFi and iMessage like the rest of my friends.) Talk to your family and figure out how you’ll communicate overseas throughout the program. Through email? International SIM Card? Skype? Determine the best mode of communication for you and your family, and figure out how you’ll get in touch in case of an emergency.

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11. City dwellers: don’t forget about transportation!
During my study abroad trip, I had metro passes for each of the three major cities I visited, and this was a huge weight off my shoulders! This allowed me unlimited travel throughout those cities during a set period of time, and it was definitely worthwhile for me. If you’re staying in one city for long, consider investing in metro passes as well. It will make life a lot easier.

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12. Call your credit card company beforehand.
As a financial services professional, I’d be crazy not to mention this one. Make sure your credit card companies are aware of when you will be out of the country so that they don’t freeze your accounts while you’re away! I made the mistake of booking Versailles tickets online while I was still in the states, and found that my account was frozen almost immediately after for suspected credit card theft. Make sure your financial institutions are aware of your whereabouts to avoid any mishaps once you leave the country – it will be a lot harder to solve these problems away from home!

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15 Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True13. Have an open mind.
Study abroad is the perfect time to experience things for the first time. Order a meal you wouldn’t normally try, explore the city’s cultural centers and historical sites, and get out of your comfort zone! Immerse yourself in the culture. After all, when will you get another chance to do so?

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14. Document everything!
Whenever I travel, I cannot be found without my trusty digital camera. During my study abroad trip, as well as during a separate trip to Israel a few months prior, I took pictures of everything! At night, I used a notebook to keep track of what I had photographed, as well as to journal my experiences and feelings thus far. I also blogged a bit during my study abroad trip (see here, here and here). Remember to take tons of pictures, and feel free to blog about your experiences as well! Years later, I still enjoy looking back at those photos, journals and blog entries to relive those amazing trips.

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15. Believe in yourself.
I know this sounds cheesy, but bear with me! While I loved my study abroad experience, one of my biggest regrets in college was not taking a summer-long internship opportunity in London. The main reason I didn’t fully pursue that program was because I feared I wouldn’t be able to get around the city myself and I doubted my ability to navigate. When I finally did visit London for the first time, I learned how to use the metro very quickly, and immediately regretted my decision not to participate in an internship there. Whatever doubts are holding you back from a program, cast them aside and just go!

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What questions do you have about studying abroad? Any tips or resources? Share yours in the comments section below!

The Freshman 15: Avoiding College Weight Gain

The Freshman 15: Avoiding College Weight GainAhhhh, college weight gain. It’s the reason the term “Freshman 15,” which I’ve borrowed for my blog’s college advice series, even exists at all! Although the Freshman 15 is a popular subject (and fear!) among college students, I have avoided writing about it in the past because of my personal struggles with weight and body image.

My weight fluctuated in college, and crept up on the scale in the months following my graduation. Much like college, my job is very event focused, and I found myself making some unhealthy food decisions based on convenience and stress. However, in February 2014, I decided to make a huge change, adopting a much cleaner diet and dropping nearly 20 pounds in the process. My journey to better health is ongoing (and I could probably write an entire book about it!), but I’ve learned a lot of important lessons along the way that will benefit any college student – or graduate – looking to avoid that dreaded weight gain.

The Freshman 15: Avoiding College Weight Gain

1. Even if it’s free, you don’t have to eat it.
Free food is abundant in a college environment, and it’s the perfect way to draw students in to events on campus. As a college student, I was a sucker for free pizza. Even worse, I consumed tons of free pizza as a college grad because I worked at a lot of university events and pizza was always available. Over time, I learned that free food was NOT always the best option for my waistline! Now, when I know I’m going to be surrounded by unhealthy free foods, I’ll try to eat something beforehand to curb temptations, or I’ll bring along a healthy snack. If you are going to indulge, stick to one slice.

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2. Don’t drink your calories.
Alcohol is filled with hidden calories! We often think about foods being high in calories, but it’s easy to forget that our beverages can be, too. (Personally, if I were allotted 500 calories and could choose between alcohol and chocolate cake, I would always choose the chocolate cake, but that’s just me.) It’s okay to order a drink once in a while, but be wary of how much you consume! Opt for water or make your drinks skinny to trim back some of the calories.

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calories3. Prepare meals at home.
Not only are you saving money by eating at home, but you are also more likely to cut your calories and avoid many of the unhealthy hidden ingredients found in restaurant food. While many menus do have some “lighter fare” options, you still don’t always know how much sodium or what quality ingredients are used in your meal. When you cook at home, you are the one in control!

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4. Walk to class.
Unless your college campus is spread widely throughout the city, walking to classes can be the perfect way to burn calories throughout the day and sneak in some exercise. My university has horrible parking problems, so walking instead of driving between classes was actually faster for me and a good way to save on gas. If you don’t like to walk, consider riding your bike or skateboard instead!

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5. Make it work in the dorms.
A full kitchen is ideal for meal preparation, but even if you live in the dorms, you can still live a healthy lifestyle. Look for easy, healthy recipes you can prepare in the microwave or store in your mini-fridge. You may not be able to create gourmet dinners you’re comfortable posting on Instagram, but you can still manage some simple meals using the bare minimum.

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SkinnyPop_4_4oz_JW06-copy6. Bring healthy alternatives to parties.
If you’re attending a party or social event and nervous about being tempted by all the unhealthy party foods, bring your own addition. Find nutritious snack recipes that people will enjoy, bring a fruit/veggie platter with hummus (I’m telling you, this can be a huge hit) or even pick up healthier versions of your favorite snack foods. I used to be addicted to super-buttery microwave popcorn (terrible for you AND filled with horrible additives that are linked to a lot of diseases), so I replaced it with Skinny Pop and Boom Chickapop popcorn instead… They have ingredients you can actually pronounce, they have far fewer calories, and they taste delicious! Another favorite of mine is spinach/kale chips from The Better Chip brand, which my friends enjoy as well. Everyone will be able to eat a little healthier, and no one will know the difference. 🙂

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7. Find coupons to buy healthy foods at a lower price.
Since I started eating more produce and keeping certain specialty items in the house for healthy cooking, I’ve noticed my grocery bills have gone up. (I’ve also noticed my restaurant bills have gone down… but I digress.) Look out for coupons at your local grocery store and buy in bulk when possible. Generic brands are usually fine as long as you check your ingredients, and organic doesn’t always make a difference when it comes to certain fruits and veggies. You don’t have to break the bank when shopping for healthier foods, but keep in mind that even when you do spend a little more, you are investing in a healthier future.

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photo_2010_11_10_nutrition_label8. Read your labels.
When I began my first Whole 30, I was amazed to see how many unhealthy (and unnecessary) ingredients were hidden away in many of the foods I commonly bought. In fact, I had to go to a specialty store to buy pickles that didn’t have food dye OR sugar/corn syrup in them! Did you know that many tomato sauces and chicken broths also have sugar in them? As someone who tries to avoid added sugar, I am still amazed at how hard it is to find foods without these sweeteners in them. Keep in mind that “low-calorie” doesn’t always mean “healthy,” and try to purchase foods with better ingredients in them as often as you can.

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9. Find convenient snack and meal options.
Let’s face it – for many of us, preparing clean and beautiful dishes for every meal can be a little unrealistic. When balancing coursework, a job, extra-curricular activities and a social life, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to always have the perfect dinner on-hand. However, this is not an excuse to eat TV dinners and run to the vending machines between classes! Figure out what you can eat when you’re in a major hurry or just too tired to cook. For me, this means stocking up on fruit, carrots and Lara Bars that are perfect for my grab-and-go lifestyle. I also like to hard boil a few eggs at a time and have them ready in my fridge when I need a quick protein-filled fix. Meal replacement shakes can also be a good way to go!

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10. Figure out your healthiest options on campus.
Does your college have a dining hall or food court? Do your research and figure out what meals you can enjoy without sabotaging yourself. The university where I often work has a well-stocked salad bar, which can be a great option when I don’t feel like packing a meal that day. Are you a sandwich enthusiast? Swap out your usual fried chicken for grilled, and consider doing away with the bread altogether! Craving a burrito? Make it a burrito bowl. You can make small changes to cut back while still enjoying the same tastes you love.

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richardsimmons11. Participate in more active social activities.
You don’t have to live at the gym in order to live an active lifestyle. Instead of letting all social activities revolve around food and drinks, consider going for a walk around a new area of town with your friends, or hike in a place you’ve never been before. Go to the beach. Spend the day mini-golfing. Go to a group exercise class together. Power walk around your mall before the stores open, and then go shopping. (Mall Walking: It’s not just for old ladies anymore!) You don’t have to sweat or do anything particularly strenuous, but find ways to get out and move around while still enjoying your friends’ company.

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12. Don’t eat late at night.
Nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m. Even after 9 p.m., I’ve noticed that food choices tend to become a lot less healthy the later it gets. Pick a cut-off time to stop eating, and stick to it! This will help you skip the late night snacking that plagues so many of us throughout the college years and beyond.

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20131226-23285013. Out of kitchen, out of mind.
Want to stop eating certain foods in excess? Don’t buy them! I found myself eating way more pasta than any normal person should (especially at 5’2” ½), so I stopped keeping it in the apartment. Since I made the decision to stop buying it, my cravings for the food have decreased significantly. I also no longer stock my kitchen with junk food. It sounds simple enough, but it’s a lot harder to mindlessly eat the bad stuff when it isn’t around. (It also helps that my roommate doesn’t keep it in the house, either!)

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14. Build your support system.
Find friends who will be a good influence on you! Ignore the naysayers – they will be out there. When I decided to change my diet for good, I did receive some negative comments from friends and acquaintances, and chances are, you will too. Don’t listen to them. You need to do what is best for you and your health, so spend time with people who also live a healthy lifestyle and are not looking to sabotage yours.

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15. Create lifestyle changes.
For me, diets just don’t work. I have severely cut back on calories and tested out fad diets, and ultimately I learned nothing from the experience and wound up gaining the weight back. This time around, I completed two rounds of the Whole 30, an elimination program designed to help you discover food sensitivities and improve your overall health. Once this was over, I learned that my body hates gluten, sugar gives me headaches and super-processed junk food makes me cranky! (Yes, food really can affect you in more ways than just your weight.) Through this program, I lost a lot of weight and kept it off because I created a lot of new habits and began a lifestyle of about 80/20 clean eating. You can’t just change your food choices temporarily – you have to develop healthy habits if you want to achieve lasting results!

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Readers, have you struggled with college weight gain? What are you doing to combat that? What other topics would you like to read about on The Freshman 15?

The Freshman 15: Finding Happiness in College

findinghappinessincollegeFor those who attend my alma mater (and many other universities throughout the world), today is the first day of school! Growing up, I always loved this time of the year, as I stocked up on fresh school supplies, spruced up my wardrobe and hoped that a cute new boy would move to town and be in all of my classes. Now in my second year out of school, it still feels crazy for me not to experience that “first day” excitement, as my inner nerd aches to read through a new syllabus and crack open a new textbook.

Many of you are starting college today (or next week, or early next month) for the first time ever. I congratulate you! College can be overwhelming, exhausting and, at times, heartbreaking. Completing your undergraduate degree is no laughing matter. But when I look back on the past 23 (almost 24) years of my life, I remember that many of the happiest moments took place during my university years.

Over the years, several of my readers have asked, “How can I find happiness in college?” Today, as you embark on this new and exciting adventure that is your undergraduate career, I’d like to share 15 of my own tips for truly living your college experience in a positive way.

The Freshman 15: Finding Happiness in College

1. Get involved on campus.
You will get out of your college experience what you put into it. What you do in the classroom is one key to your success, but keep in mind that it isn’t the only key. By joining a club or committee that interests you, you will not only gain valuable experience that you can’t obtain from a textbook, but you will also meet new people and challenge yourself in new ways. For tips on how to get involved on campus, check out my handy guide here.

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13589981289522. Smile.
Did you know that the first Friday of October is World Smile Day? 🙂 Sometimes even a simple smile can brighten your day and turn your mood around. People respond better to you when you look happier, but people are less likely to approach you with a scowl on your face. It’s simple: Smile more, and happy things will follow.

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3. Eat a more nutritious diet, and cut out the chemicals.
Seriously. This was always something my dad preached in our house, and I never wanted to believe it, but it’s true. I find that when I eat a diet rich in whole foods (as opposed to raiding the vending machine at work and binging on fast food), I’m a lot more even-tempered and less likely to overreact to minor things. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Not only will this make you happier in the long run, but it will make your waistline happier, too.

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4. Talk to your friends…
We all need somebody to lean on. You’ll make friends as you adjust to your new environment, and as you grow closer, you will likely turn to each other for support. This is a good thing, because it will allow you to grow closer and form more meaningful relationships.

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thcaaxvjkd5. … But don’t lean on one person too much.
When you rely on one person too heavily, you may wind up putting too much pressure on him or her to solve your problems and be that shoulder to lean on. You don’t want to be that one negative friend that people dread talking to, so be sure to keep that in check when confiding in others.

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6. Utilize the university counseling center if necessary.
If you’re having trouble adjusting to college life or are having some emotional difficulties, a good resource to take advantage of is the school’s counseling center. Chances are, your tuition and student activity fees actually pay for counseling services anyway, so it is a free resource that you might as well use. This can help you find new ways to cope with your problems and talk to someone who isn’t as close to the situation as your friends are.

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7. Whenever you start to doubt yourself, listen to an emergency compliment.
I love this site, Emergency Compliment, because it’s exactly what it sounds like. The page generates a new “emergency compliment” every time you refresh, and the compliments will definitely make you smile. Similarly, you can write down all of the positive things people have said about you, and read them on the tougher days to remind yourself of how great you really are.

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free+time18. Get organized.
Make checklists and keep a calendar to stay on task with your school work, extracurriculars and social obligations. This will ensure that you don’t forget anything important and therefore cause yourself even more stress and anxiety than you were already facing from those two papers and three midterms. For tips on managing your time effectively in college, visit my guide here.

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9. Take each day one at a time.
Don’t try to solve all of the world’s problems at once. When you try to do too much, you stop doing any of it very well. Be careful not to spread yourself too thin!

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10. Go outside.
Enjoy the fresh air and beauty of nature, even if you are inundated with schoolwork and group projects. As a student, I often brought my books outside when the weather was nice, and I found that this had a major impact on my overall mood. If you can, try to study or meet for lunch with friends outside once in a while… the change in scenery will (quite literally) brighten your day.

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endorphins11. Move around.
Does your university have a free gym for students? Use it! The endorphins will boost your mood and help relieve some of the stress you’re facing. Plus, it’s a very healthy way to get your mind off of some of the things that may be bothering you!

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12. Find a major you really love, and stick to it.
If you enjoy what you’re doing and have an end goal in sight, it will make it that much easier for you to push past your challenges. You may hate that organic chemistry class you’re taking, but if you are passionate about your other pre-med classes and excited about the idea of becoming a doctor someday, you’ll have an easier time forcing yourself to study. Don’t pursue a major just to impress others or check it off your list — instead, find something you’re passionate about. For tips on how to choose the right major, click here.

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13. Volunteer.
Helping others, instead of focusing on the things that have gone wrong in your life, will cheer you up and allow you to give back to the community. Join a volunteer organization at your university, or look for a local non-profit whose mission speaks to you.

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-114. Develop some school spirit!
If you take pride in your school, you will be less homesick and have an easier time adjusting to the challenges you face on campus. Attend a few athletic events and wear your university’s colors proudly! This also helps you to connect with others on campus and you may even make friends at the games.

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15. If you expect wonderful things to happen, they will.
My friend Nicole always says this, and I completely agree! Good things will come when you have a positive attitude and expect them to. When you’re going through a rough adjustment, keep your chin up and hope for the best. Positive thoughts can attract positive outcomes.

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What are some of your tips for finding happiness in college? Freshmen, what topics would you like to see on The Freshman 15?

The Freshman 15: Managing Your Money in College

15 ways to manage your money in collegeWhen I look back at my college life, I’m proud of how much I accomplished in those four years. I made friends early on, joined organizations on campus, participated in internships and experienced a lot of personal growth along the way. However, one practical skill I wish I’d picked up earlier in my college career was personal finance. I was fortunate (and extremely grateful!) to have my family’s support as an undergraduate, as well as scholarships that paid a significant chunk of my tuition, but I wish I had asked the right questions and developed an interest sooner.

Personal finance is something that a lot of students struggle with, whether that involves saving appropriately for their wants and needs, building their credit scores or even understanding the basics of a checking account. After graduation, I quickly learned the importance of budgeting and using money responsibly, as I acquired new bills I had never dealt with in student housing. Now working in a financial institution, I learn something new every day, and am excited to share my tips for managing your money as a college student! Whether you receive support from your family or are completely financially independent, hopefully some of these tips will help you to save money and stay out of trouble.

The Freshman 15: Managing Your Money in College

1. Take advantage of student discounts and free resources on campus.
Any time you plan to spend money, bring your student ID along for the ride. Local retailers, restaurants and other vendors may offer student discounts that will cut down your expenses, and it never hurts to ask. Some nearby museums and attractions may even offer free admission for college students, and it’s easy to find out which ones simply by googling “free and cheap things to do in ____.” On campus, you can save money as well. Use the university’s gym instead of purchasing a membership elsewhere, or join an intramural team. Instead of hitting the mall on a beautiful summer day, spend some time by the university’s pool. You already pay for these resources through your student activity fees, so why not make the most of them?

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2. Attend workshops.
Chances are, at least one organization on campus offers free workshops on financial topics that are important to college students. Go to the ones that fit your schedule. Different institutions may offer slightly different advice, but the more you attend, the more you learn. Take good notes and ask questions. By familiarizing yourself with these concepts now, you’ll do a better job preparing for the future.

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college overpriced3. Don’t buy new textbooks from the university bookstore.
This is how you guarantee you’ll pay the most for your books. Instead, you have a few options. You can use sites like Amazon to get new books at a cheaper rate, especially if you do so through their private booksellers, or you can buy used through those sites. You can rent books, either through your university or through sites like Chegg. My honors college hosted book buyback as well, where students could advertise old textbooks of theirs at the prices they selected on their own, and others could purchase through that same program. If your university has a program like this, it’s a great way to save money on textbooks and get a little cash back. If not, consider starting one yourself!

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4. Join a credit union.
As a credit union member and employee, I may be a little biased, but credit unions generally pay higher interest on your savings accounts and charge lower interest on your loans. They offer everything a bank would offer, but because they are not-for-profit, there are usually fewer fees associated with your account. Many universities have their own credit unions that students can join and receive special perks or student products, like accounts with no monthly fees. Even if you don’t join a credit union, make sure you know what types of fees your institution will charge so that you can avoid them!

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5. Join something accessible.
Whether you are a credit union member or you prefer using a bank, make sure that you can access your money easily. Does your institution have branches nearby? Do you know where to find the nearest ATM? Do they offer mobile or online banking? Make sure you have the answers to these questions before you commit.

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6. Avoid foreign ATM fees whenever possible.
The solution to this is simple: Unless you’re in a real emergency, use the ATMs for your financial institution only!

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HIMYM7. If you decide to live off campus, get a roommate!
Having a roommate will cut your bills in half and make everything a lot more manageable. Plus, living with someone will improve your quality of life and make things much less lonely off campus!

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8. Become an extreme couponer.
Okay… maybe not an extreme couponer, but you get the idea. Check for discounts on items you use regularly, and use them to stock up on the things that won’t go bad – toothpaste, soap, paper towels and detergent, just to name a few. Meanwhile, avoid buying perishable foods in bulk; even if they are on sale, you may still spend more than you originally planned and wind up throwing some of it away by the expiration date.

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9. Apply for scholarships.
Scholarships are a great way to save money on your education. Check out your school’s financial aid website, listen for announcements around campus and look for scholarships out on the web as well. It doesn’t hurt to apply, and many these scholarships don’t get enough applicants! Hint: If a scholarship deadline is extended, it often means that fewer people have applied for it, which increases your chances of receiving it.

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10. Pay your bills on time, every time.
Keep a schedule of when your payments are due to ensure that you pay them on time. This will help you to build your credit score, which will in turn help you later on as you apply for major loans and even for jobs. If you have a credit card, try to pay the full balance every month to avoid damaging your credit and paying interest on what you owe.

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truly-honored-wedding-ecard-someecards11. Create a budget to stay on track.
A great way to remember to pay your bills is to create a monthly budget that includes your income and expenses, including gas, car payment, rent, utilities and other payments you must make throughout the month. If you’re spending more than you’re saving, adjust accordingly. Go online to find some helpful tools for creating your budget!

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12. Save on gas money.
Carpool to campus, ride your bike or use the school’s shuttle service. If you already live on campus, walk to class! Gas money does add up, and by taking advantage of alternative modes of transportation, you can transfer some of that money into savings.

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13. Transfer 10% of your earnings into a savings account.
The more you save now, the more interest you will earn in the future! If you use direct deposit, you can automatically transfer 10% (or another amount, depending on what you can afford) into a savings account. When paying bills, use the checking account, and try not to dip into your savings.

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credit card14. Be smart about your credit card.
If you do get a credit card as a student, look for a card with no annual fees and low interest. Read the fine print! As mentioned earlier, pay the card on time EVERY time to avoid late payments, interest or other fees. Your card does play a key role in your credit score, so make sure you aren’t using it to pay for things you can’t afford. If you have trouble applying discipline to your spending habits, use a debit card instead – that way, you can’t spend money you don’t have.

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15. Get a job on campus.
Departments on campus often hire student workers and can be flexible with hours based on your class schedule. This helps you save money on gas (you’re already on campus, so you can stay in one place!) and allows you to build connections with people at your university. During my senior year, I worked in the Career Services center at my school, and not only did they allow me to work within a schedule that fit my needs, but I also met a lot of staff, students and faculty members that I still correspond with to this day.

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What are some of your tips for managing your money in college? What other topics would you like to read about on The Freshman 15?

The Freshman 15: How to Shine at Your Summer Internship

freshman15-internshipWith the June solstice just days away, many of us are already feeling the heat of summer. From beach days to lighter class schedules, summer can be the perfect time to soak in the sun and relax before life resumes its craziness in the fall. However, for many, summer can also be a great time for college students to gain real world experience (and earn extra cash!) through job shadowing and internships.

During the summer before my senior year, I interned part-time at a public relations agency, which allowed me to fulfill the role of an entry level employee while learning a lot about my craft and adding new writing samples to my portfolio. Throughout college, I participated in three other internships as well, each building on the skills I acquired during the previous one.

The people you meet at your internships will serve as important contacts throughout your career, and the experiences you have (both positive and negative) will guide you in your professional life later on. Because of this, it is important to give each internship your all, and learn how to stand out in the best way possible! This month, we’ll discuss 15 tips you can bring along to any internship you pursue.

The Freshman 15: How to Shine at Your Summer Internship

1. Dress the part!
I’ve talked about this time and time again, but the way you present yourself plays a huge role in how you are perceived. When I worked part-time in Career Services, I was amazed at what some of the students wore to job fairs – skirts that were too short, clothes that were too see-through (hint: anything see-through is too see-through!), outfits that were about three levels too casual. If it’s something you would wear to a club, it’s probably not something you should wear in an office environment. If your office allows casual clothes from time to time, follow the lead of the other employees, and if you are allowed to wear jeans to work, at least make sure they don’t have holes or tons of embellishments. As an intern, you are likely younger than most (if not all) of the people in the office, but if you dress that way, you probably won’t be taken as seriously regardless of the quality of your work.

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Alice-White-Rabbit_l2. Arrive early.
When I was a cheerleader in high school and our coaches scheduled practices, they always stressed that early was “on time,” and “on time” was late. In other words, arriving at least a few minutes early was the expectation, not the exception. This can apply to your professional life as well. Showing up a little early demonstrates that you care about the job at hand and that you’re willing to put in the extra time and effort.

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3. Do your research.
You may receive a formal introduction to the company when you arrive on Day One, or your internship coordinator may throw you an assignment right away. I’ve experienced a mix of both throughout my internships, and the best way to handle it is to prepare yourself ahead of time. Familiarize yourself with the company by visiting its website and social media pages, as well as any relevant news articles about them. This will make things less overwhelming as you adapt to a new environment, and will allow you to ask more specific questions and have better conversations with the full-time staff. It also shows that you have dedicated time outside of the office to learn about the company and that you care about what you are doing.

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4. Keep copies of everything.
Because my internships involved a lot of writing opportunities, I was able to keep physical and electronic copies of my press releases, pitch letters and published articles for my own records. As long as your work is not confidential, make sure you collect copies of everything you do so that you can refer back to them later on. Future internships and employers may want to see samples of previous work, so you will be able to present those much more easily if you already have them (instead of scrambling to ask former internship employers to email them your way). When I interviewed for my full-time job after college, I was able to provide a portfolio of past work that I can now refer back to if I need inspiration for current writing assignments. I can also look back at those pieces and see how much my writing has improved over time!

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5. Ask others what you can expect.
If you have a friend or classmate who has interned with this company in the past, ask them about their experiences! Your peers can be your best resources, and chances are, they will be happy to share. You can learn a lot about a company’s culture this way, which plays a huge role in how comfortable you feel in the workplace and whether or not you see a future there. Conversely, I have returned the favor and  answered questions for friends pursuing internships and full-time employment at some of the places I have worked, and it has been rewarding to do so. If you don’t know anyone who has interned there, see if your friends know anyone who has, and request introductions through LinkedIn or in some other way. You’ll be amazed at how willing people are to help one another. If the company is big enough, you may also be able to read reviews by employees on sites like Glassdoor.

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tumblr_inline_n6cjumawXi1qlr65v6. Take notes.
Take notes on everything – what you did each day, what feedback you received from your employer, what assignments you have received for the next week. These notes will help you perform your job better, but they will also help you remember some of the seemingly minor day-to-day tasks you fulfilled as well. You may wonder why those could be important, but in future semesters, you may come across another internship or job that requires that experience, and you’ll be able to include it on a more targeted resume. For more of my tips for a winning resume, click here.

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7. Do not badmouth the employer.
Even if your experience is less than ideal, you don’t want to burn bridges with potential contacts. Don’t post that your internship “sucks” on Facebook or say negative things about specific people through social media. In person, be careful what you say as well – you never know who knows somebody who knows somebody else, and regardless of all that, you don’t want to be regarded as the difficult person to work with. I don’t care how “private” your social media is; once you publish something on the Internet, it is never really gone.

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Studio Portrait of the Village People8. Take on new roles that are slightly outside of your comfort zone.
An internship is a learning experience, so you have to make the most of it! If the employer believes in you enough to entrust you with a task that you’ve never done before, then you need to believe in yourself enough to do it! Ask questions and do some research along the way, but allow yourself to try new things and learn from them. There is a first time for everything, and even in my current role, I find myself doing things I didn’t think I was capable of doing. On my first day at one of my internships, I was asked to work the teleprompter for a local talk show, even though I wasn’t interning in television. I was apprehensive about being allowed anywhere near all of that expensive equipment, but now I can say I’ve mastered the art of the teleprompter! Learn as much as you can every day, and you will get so much more out of your internship. (Tweet this!) It will also show the employer your versatility, and you may be asked to return for another semester.

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9. Be willing to take criticism.
We love to be showered with praise, but realistically, this isn’t how we grow in our professions. When you receive constructive criticism, take it. It can be hard to hear, especially in the beginning when you are still adjusting to a new work climate, but it is the only way you’ll get better at what you do. Don’t be overly defensive or sensitive – it’s (probably) not personal.

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messy-desk110. Maintain a neat workspace.
This may sound silly, but when your desk is reasonably organized, people automatically assume you’re a reasonably organized person and worker as well. You could be the best intern the company has ever had, but if your cubicle looks like a tornado has gone through it, other employees may make negative judgments. Keep your space neat and take pride in it, especially if you share that space with someone else.

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11. Accept tasks with a smile.
Be positive and don’t let yourself be “too big” for a task. While your internship should not consist solely of brewing coffee and taking down phone messages, realize that sometimes you may be expected to do those things. Be a team player. If you find that you aren’t doing a lot of what you signed up for, talk to your internship coordinator politely. Don’t complain – instead, tell him or her about your interest in a specific project or work function, and ask if you would be able to assist with that. Communicating with your boss instead of rolling your eyes or complaining to your mom via text will be much more productive and will allow you to actually change things.

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12. Get to know others on staff.
You may be a marketing major who is interning in the company’s marketing department, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to know people in human resources, information technology or other departments. Meet as many people as you can, and have real conversations with them about what they do in their role and how they got to where they are today. Show the initiative. You may learn that you enjoy another aspect of the company or simply that you’ve found a new mentor.

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love-exclamations13. Learn proper email etiquette.
Even in a professional setting, I still receive the occasional email written in all caps! Proofread before sending an email, especially company-wide. “Reply all” if multiple people are included on an email. Make sure you’ve attached whatever you need to attach before hitting “send.” Sometimes I like to write the email in its entirety before adding the recipients so that I can avoid sending the email too early. And of course, spell out full words – no “netspeak” that the older generations are always complaining about! It makes our generation look lazy. 🙂

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14. Make the experience your own.
Keep the lines of communication open. If there is something you would like to be doing at this internship and haven’t been able to do so far, just ask. The worst thing that can happen is that your internship coordinator says no, but then that leaves you right where you started. By asking the right questions, I ended up with so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise: I received on-air media training, I helped coordinate a press conference at a missile museum, I sat in on a radio interview and even transcribed a speech for Bill Clinton (and wrote an article about it). The people at your internship know that you are there to learn, so chances are, they will be open to personalizing the experience for you if you put forth the effort.

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15. Keep in touch.
With the invention of email and social media, there is no excuse not to stay in touch with employers after the internship experience is over. One of my biggest regrets from college was not doing a better job of keeping up with some employers once the new semester began, and it is the greatest wisdom I can pass on to you. Chances are, you are not going to find a job through a job listing when you graduate – you will probably instead find that job through the contacts you make along the way. Even if the company you interned for isn’t hiring when you graduate, they may be able to pass your information over to someone else in the industry who is. They can serve as references and role models as you pursue your career further, so send them an email every now and then to see what they are up to.

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For those pursuing internships this summer and in upcoming semesters, best of luck! Internships can be some of the most rewarding experiences you have in college, and you will be able to apply the lessons you’ve learned in the classroom. For more of my tips on how to stand out professionally while you’re in college, click here.

The Seven Deadly Sins of College Life

sevendeadlysinscollegeNow that freshman orientation sessions are in full bloom, it’s time to start thinking about your first year in college. It can be tricky to navigate those first few semesters of your undergraduate career, but with the right tools and resources, you can still succeed both academically and personally.

As you prepare for a new life on campus, keep these “deadly sins” in mind, and be sure to avoid them at all costs!

The Seven Deadly Sins of College Life

1. Lust.
Whether you’re new to the dating world or you just ended things with your high school sweetheart, it is easy to fall prey to this first vice. Unless you attend a religious school, you’ll most likely have more dating freedom than ever before when you first set foot on campus. You should take advantage of that freedom… to an extent. Meet new people, but don’t date every guy who lives in your dorm building just for the convenience or excitement factor. Remember that college is also a time to form other important relationships, like lasting friendships and mentorships. (For tips on how to survive your college relationships, visit my Freshman 15 post here.)

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2. Gluttony.
Once you’ve moved into the dorms, you will be exposed to more free junk food than you’ve possibly ever seen in your life. If you’re not careful, pizza can and will become a staple in your diet, as it seems to be served at most campus events and nearly every day in the dining halls. With more access to unhealthy food than you know what to do with, you may experience weight gain or other unwanted health issues. Allow yourself to indulge every now and then, but make sure you still get your fruits and vegetables, too!

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3. Greed.
If you decide to live in the dorms, chances are you will have a roommate. Regardless of your floor plan, you will need to learn to share your spaces effectively. Don’t be greedy and allow your belongings to take up the entire dorm room! Instead, talk to your roommate about those shared spaces so that you can coexist peacefully. (For other ideas on topics to discuss with roommates before move-in, click here.)

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No, not THAT kind of sloth!

No, not THAT kind of sloth!

4. Sloth.
Don’t let yourself get lazy in college! This often happens because of the freedom college allows students to choose their own class times and be accountable for their own work. Your class might not take attendance, but you will still see repercussions if you decide not to show up. You may have the ability to take all of your classes after noon, but if you run the risk of sleeping in even later and losing productivity time, is it really worth it? Without your parents or guardians around to wake you up for school or urge you to finish your homework, you have to push yourself to do these things on your own. Set alarms. Make lists. Learn how to manage your time effectively. These things will not only help you succeed in college, but they will also benefit you long after graduation.

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5. Wrath.
Because of all the changes you will experience in college, you may be dealing with a lot of emotions. You also might have trouble coping with difficult situations because you are still getting used to a new support system and environment. However, it’s important not to take these things out on the people in your life. Learn how to control your emotions and find what makes you happy when you’re struggling the most. When in doubt, visit an advisor or your university’s counseling center for a shoulder to lean on. These resources can truly make all the difference when you need a nudge in the right direction.

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6. Envy.
While you’re in school, you’ll likely meet a few people who seem to Have It All. These people seem to be in perfect relationships, are super involved on campus, win every award known to man, have more friends than they know what to do with and seem to be Better Than You in Every Way. I certainly knew a few people like this when I was in college, and it’s easy to become jealous. Of course, you’ll realize in time that everyone you meet is fighting a battle of their own, and that no one is living the perfect life. The best way to stop envying others for the lives they are living is to create the life you want for yourself. Get involved in the activities that interest you. Volunteer. Make new friends. Immerse yourself in your major. Figure out what will make you happy, and do that instead of dwelling on how much happier everyone else is. Your happiness will soon follow.

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7. Pride.
Admit your shortcomings and accept help from others. Early on in college, I knew quite a few people who felt they could do everything on their own, even when they couldn’t.  Although they struggled in some of their classes, they felt they were too smart to attend tutoring sessions or visit the professor during office hours. Their grades suffered because of this. I don’t know why our society raises us to think that asking for help is a sign of weakness, but you have to let go of that notion from the moment you start taking college classes. Don’t be “too smart” for your own good.

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If you could add an eighth deadly sin for college life, what would it be? Add your own in the comments section below!

The Post-Grad 15: Advice from Readers

graduationTime to turn your tassels, ladies and gentlemen. Graduation is in the air! :)

Normally in May, I collect 15 tips from college students and alumni specifically geared toward your undergraduate years (see Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3), but my focus shifted slightly after receiving my Bachelor of Arts last year. After a year in the workforce, I shared 15 of the lessons I learned since graduation, and decided that this year’s advice from readers should also focus on life after graduation.

Whether you just graduated or are just beginning your college career, you will learn a lot from this month’s blog. Several talented bloggers and professionals have come together to provide their insight into life beyond the classroom, and I am happy to share their words of wisdom with each of you! Be sure to check out their blogs and social media, and add your own tips and questions in the comments section below.

Oh, and to all of those recent/upcoming graduates, congratulations!

The Post-Grad 15: Advice from Readers

1. “Make a list of every possible career path you can take with your degree, along with things that you find yourself doing in your spare time. Don’t immediately reject any opportunity you may come across either, no matter how off the wall it seems and especially if it’s on your list. Finally, stay positive throughout it all. You’ll figure out your career with time, so just enjoy this chapter of your life and know that the best is yet to come.”
– Nicole Simmons, University of Central Florida, Advertising/Public Relations major (Website: Nicole M. Simmons)

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perfectionist-image2. “Not everyone is going to work as hard as you. I’d like to believe I have always been a hard-working and diligent perfectionist. If I promise something is going to be done, it will get done (even if it means I practically sleep at the office). I have learned however, that even seasoned professionals don’t always work as hard as they should. Not everyone cares as much as you do, and it’s an obstacle you need to mentally overcome. Don’t let it discourage you from working to your potential.”
– Christina Frost, University of Florida, Applied Physiology & Kinesthesiology major

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3. “It’s a tough world and finding a job here in the UK, even as a graduate, is hard. Just go to Uni/College, do something you love and enjoy every minute. Employers don’t mind too much what your degree was in; they want to see you stuck to something that a lot of people can’t, and they will see you were determined to better yourself.”
– Kenzie Harvey, Sheffield Hallam University (United Kingdom), Performance for Stage & Screen major (Blog: Lemonaid Lies, Twitter: @LemonaidLies)

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4. “It’s okay to feel completely lost straight out of school. You spent the past 18ish years educating yourself and the world is a big adjustment, but you’re not alone. No one in their 20s has life all figured out, and if they do, they’re probably missing something huge. And always take time to take care of yourself.”
– Jennifer Zhou, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Chemical Engineering major (Twitter: @sprawlingdivide)

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lifebeginssmall5. “Step out of your comfort zone. If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.  Don’t be afraid to take chances.  One decision may change your life, but it certainly won’t ruin it.    It wasn’t until I left my job and blindly backpacked through Europe, that I found true happiness and purpose in my life.  Take the leap.  Believe in yourself.  Opportunities are everywhere, and it’s up to you to make your dreams come true.”
– Max Pankow, University of Florida, Finance major (Blog: Motivate Your Plate)

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6. “Here’s two things you should definitely do before you graduate: Apply for a study-abroad program and get an internship. You will be hard pressed to find a more eye-opening experience than living abroad on your own, and a degree is virtually useless without hands-on experience in today’s market.
– Jorge Rincón, University of Central Florida, Economics major

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7. “My advice is for college students to meet as many people as possible. Go to networking events, meetings and socials; join social and mentorship organizations; sign up or run for leadership positions to boost your presence in the community and show people what you can do. Make an impression. In the future, you’ll be remembered for your involvement and contributions, and your network will become one of the things you’re most thankful for.”
– Kevina Lee, University of Florida, Journalism major (Website: Kevina-Lee.com, Twitter:
@kevina_lee)

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72e0ad8cc08481dced5879b8099ea09c8. “A big change when moving from college to post-college life is that a lot of your built-in daily support system is displaced: roommates, friends, professors, RAs and other fixtures of college life are no longer quite as accessible as they once were. Sometimes the newfound ‘alone time’ or ‘quiet time’ feels strange or isolating as you navigate early adulthood.

But oftentimes, the moments that feel the most lonely are sometimes the best reminders you are connected to everyone else. Because everybody on this planet has experienced sadness, felt heartbreak, been sensitive to rejection, laid in bed at night with tears coming down their face. The moments that feel the most isolating are usually when you are experiencing the most universal feelings.

With that in mind, my best advice for post-college is to not be afraid to reach out when things feel tough. Something as simple as a text message that says “I feel sad today” to a friend or a parent can get you a little support, and help you deal with some unhappy feelings until things get better. Which they always do. Everything in life, and especially in your 20’s, is always getting just a tiny bit better, even if some weeks the ‘tiny bit’ feels extra tiny.”
– Molly Ford, Northeastern University, Smart Pretty and Awkward*

9. “Always remember that being good at something doesn’t make it exciting. Find what it is you’re passionate about and chase it for as long as it takes. Five years from now, you’ll be happy you did.”
– Mercedes Reinhard, University of Central Florida, Advertising/Public Relations major (LinkedIn: Mercedes Reinhard, Twitter: @isitbutadream_)

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Maybe this isn't the best example of mentorship, but you get the idea!

Maybe this isn’t the best example of mentorship, but you get the idea!

10. “My piece of post-grad advice is to find mentors who are able to guide you in areas of your life beyond just your career (but you need the career ones too) and seek out their advice when you need it or just check in and bounce ideas off of them. And no matter where your life plans and path take you, stay in touch!
– Kaitlin Border, University of Central Florida, Accounting major

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11. “My first year as a post graduate and young professional was wrought with highs and lows. I’ve learned so much that college didn’t prepare me for, but I wish someone has advised me to make time for myself and the things I find most important. I love my job, but I made a mistake in devoting myself COMPLETELY to my career. My advice is to focus on your career, but be sure to also make time for yourself, your friends, your family, and your health.”
– Beth Ginsburg, University of Central Florida, Elementary Education major

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12. “Talk to strangers. Actually, talk to everyone. This goes against one of the cardinal rules your parents taught you growing up, but now that you’re a “grown up,” toss that piece of advice out the window with your twin XL sheets and your astronomy textbook. Everyone has a story, or an idea, or a friend, or a piece of advice that has the potential to simply, yet chaotically, flip your entire world upside down. It’s important that you silence the butterflies in your stomach and reach your hand out to say hello and to introduce yourself to every person around you. Maybe you’re at a networking event and you’re just hanging, idly, by the bar. Or you’re sitting on a park bench, in silence, next to a guy who is also sitting there, in silence. Perhaps you’re on the subway admiring someone’s nail polish color or you’re in the elevator and the person is getting off at the same floor as you. That one ‘first move’ hello is all it takes in this real world to teach you something new. And in this real world, you won’t find lectures or a syllabus or a textbook the size of your coffee table to teach you things. The most important things you’ll learn out here come from the people standing right next to you. It’s that simple.”
– Jen Glantz, University of Central Florida, English and Journalism major (Blog: The Things I Learned From, Book: All My Friends Are Engaged, Twitter: @tthingsilearned

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prof-farnsworth13. “University leaders will be your advocate. It is very easy to get wrapped up in academics, friends, and social life that you might forget about the other people on your college campus who have the potential to strengthen your network.  Some of the most influential and interesting people at college are the employees that work at your university.  The directors of the departments, the deans of admission and administration, the list goes on. These people can not only mentor you throughout your undergraduate career but can also help set groundwork for your career by inviting you to attend important dinners with university leaders or even make a call to a friend for your first job interview. In my personal experience, the leaders at my university laid the groundwork for some of the most important experiences on my resume.  I participated in small job opportunities in their organization and that small job turned into lifelong relationships that still positively influence my professional journey.”
– Lexi Butler, Stanford University, Communications and Spanish major (CEO of The Grown Up Truth, Twitter: @lbee27)

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14. “Don’t take things, or yourself, too seriously, and stop worrying about the little things outside of your control. You are still young, in your early- to mid-twenties, and contrary to what you may think, you do not know everything. You’ll face adversity in time, so be prepared to roll with the punches that life will throw you, and remind yourself that you are not entitled to anything (besides being treated decently by others, which you should do as well). Work hard and be persistent with what you want in life, but be sure to make the time to take care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually.”
– Branden McCreary, University of Central Florida, Pre-Clinical Health Sciences

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15. “If a recent graduate has a specific job in mind during the application process, I would advise them to research former employees who had the same position. As important as it is to get to know who you’d be working with, it’s even more important to learn where a job might lead – did those individuals get the skills they needed in this position to land a killer job at the next level? If you feel it’s appropriate, you should even reach out to them to ask how their experience was.
– Kacie Boniberger, University of Central Florida, Advertising/Public Relations (Twitter: @kacieboniberger)

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A huge thank you to our wonderful contributors! 🙂 Be sure to check out their blogs and social media.

Readers, what tips would you offer to upcoming/recent grads?

The Post-Grad 15: What I’ve Learned Since My College Graduation

Me as a college graduate!

Me as a college graduate!

When I was a freshman in college, I launched The Freshman 15 series on my blog. Every month, I provided a list of 15 tips for college students geared toward a particular theme, such as getting involved on campus, navigating college relationships and overcoming homesickness. That first April in 2010, the series kicked off with a list of 15 lessons I had learned that year in college, and this quickly became a tradition – every April brought with it a list of what I had learned outside of the classroom that year (see Year 2, Year 3 and Year 4).

Although these posts were some of my blog’s most popular, The Freshman 15 series fell to the wayside about a year ago. However, this month, I am excited to announce that The Freshman 15 is officially back and (hopefully) better than ever!

As many of my readers may know, I graduated from college back in May 2013, so this month’s article comes with a twist – a list of 15 lessons I learned in the year since I graduated college! The past year was particularly eye-opening for me, as I moved to a new apartment, began working full-time and experienced other substantial changes in my life. In that time, I faced plenty of ups and downs, and am excited to share what I discovered in the process!

The Post-Grad 15: What I’ve Learned Since My College Graduation

 1. You can get through the seemingly impossible, but you have to take the first step. (Tweet this!)
In my first year out of school, I overcame a few challenges in my life that I thought would be impossible, simply by moving forward. Instead of sitting around, waiting for things to get better, I took action and made my life better. This year was proof that “Your life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change.” I achieved positive results in my life by doing things I’d never done before, and learned that our biggest opportunities for growth often come from the challenges we didn’t think we could face.

2. Don’t put glass bottles on the top shelf, especially above a carpeted surface…
… And if you do, make sure you have plenty of carpet cleaner on hand! I learned this lesson the hard way when I knocked a bottle of Kahlua off a shelf and had to make a late-night trip to the store for cleanup. Several rounds of vacuuming later, my apartment was as good as new, but my leg and foot were a different story! (The worst part is that neither my roommate nor I drink Kahlua or had any use for it on our shelf!)

01595c42c30d4e84d087359d60e68d083. Tragedy does not care about timing.
I have written about this before, but I cannot stress this lesson enough. Only a month after graduation, I experienced two profound yet completely different losses within four days of each other. At the time, I was in new-hire training at work, and in the middle of packing up for my upcoming move across town. Dealing with two negative situations at the same time was difficult and often felt unfair, but I quickly learned that – cliché as it is – life isn’t always fair. At the end of the day, you still have to find healthy ways to cope and still function as a human being. Life will continue to happen around you, whether or not you pick up the pieces, and the world will spin madly on.

4. You can find alliances in unexpected places.
Accept them. You will need them, as you adjust to The Real World, and from time to time, they will need you. Be the type of friend you would want to have, and open your eyes to the wonderful people out there who want to be yours.

5. Get a roommate.
You will save money this way, and you will be a lot less lonely!

I am fortunate to have this trail right outside of my neighborhood!

I am fortunate to have this trail right outside of my neighborhood!

6. Breathe in the fresh air.
I mean this literally. Make it a priority to go outside. Several months ago, my boyfriend and I discovered a nature trail near my apartment, and since then, I have enjoyed countless walks down that trail when I need to get away. (Recently, my roommate and I even encountered a bunny out there!) Find a peaceful place where you can go when the weather is nice and you need that change in scenery.

7. There will still be days that suck.
You know the ones I’m talking about… the long, cold, rainy ones when all you want to do is go home and sleep, but then you find yourself pulled into one fiasco after another, and when you finally think it’s all over, you drop your keys in the dark. Those days still exist, even now that you’re supposed to be a well-adjusted, sophisticated adult, and you will never escape them completely. But then there are the good days that make all the struggles and minor crises that much easier to take, because they remind us of the success we’re working toward.

8. You are never too old for a Disney movie night.
Sometimes it’s important to stop taking ourselves so seriously and to enjoy the simple things that remind us of our childhood. Whenever I’m sick, I curl up in bed and watch Beauty and the Beast, partly because Belle is my all-time favorite princess and partly because the film takes me back to a simpler time in my life. Find those comforts and take advantage of them when needed. (This same rule can be applied to the Spice Girls movie, which my roommate and I may or may not have watched at home a few months ago…)

9. Clothes make the man (or woman).
To be taken seriously in the workforce, you have to invest in a few key pieces. Make sure you have a nice suit and can put together a clean and polished outfit for an interview or for work. Some items can be found on sale or for much cheaper, but you will need to invest in quality clothes. (These are great graduation gifts to ask for!)

121212someecards110. Learn about finances before you graduate.
Know how to write a check, balance your checkbook and create a budget. You can find plenty of templates online to get started, but you will need to find ways to stay organized so that you can avoid paying late or spending more than your paycheck allows. Learn about how to build your credit score and develop positive habits now, so that your borrowing history doesn’t keep you from reaching your dreams later in life.

11. It is much more difficult to take time off to go see family.
Because of this, you have to value that time now more than ever. Don’t let those visits get lost amidst piles of work and obligations. Appreciate the family you have and make the time for them when you are able to do so.

12. When looking at jobs, think big picture.
Salary is important, but what about the job’s benefits? What about the company culture? Will you be happy there? I was lucky to accept a job where many employees have stayed on for years, one where I could see myself long-term, but some people will go against their gut and take the first job offer they can get their hands on. Keep an open mind, but don’t settle if the job isn’t for you.

Home sweet home!

Home sweet home!

13. Develop a sense of community, wherever you end up.
Find free events in your area, cheap museums to visit, local parks and other attractions that contribute to your community’s identity. This helps you to take pride in where you live, especially when you are in a new place, and in my case, it helps me feel less homesick! These types of events can also help you to save money while still having fun with friends.

14. Life doesn’t fit into a neatly shaped box.
Sometimes, things don’t go as you plan, no matter how hard you try. There may be times when your life feels less like a glamorous Audrey Hepburn movie and more like an extremely depressing episode of Girls. It’s okay to veer off path once in a while, so long as you develop that support system that can steer you back on course.

15. Be thankful for the good times.
I cannot stress this enough. While you experience highs and lows after graduation, you will want to remember the highs and never take them for granted. As one project I’m working on this year, I keep a jar of all the great things that have happened in 2014. Every time I experience something positive that I want to remember, I write it down on a small slip of paper and stick it in the jar. At the end of the year, I look forward to pouring everything out and reliving some of those happy memories. After all, amidst the lows, the year has also brought with it some pretty spectacular highs. 🙂

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Readers: Are you a college graduate who would like to share a lesson you’ve learned since graduation? Email me at vmoses90@gmail.com for details on how you can contribute to an upcoming article on So It Must Be True!