Six Ways to Save Some Serious Cash This Semester

January 31st, 2017 by

Whether you’re a struggling freshman or a cash-strapped senior, you know how much of a struggle getting a handle on your finances can be. Maybe you can only work part time with your course load or maybe you’re working with a limited meal plan. Whatever your situation, here are six lifesaving tips to help you save money this semester without sacrificing your basic wants and needs.

6355840185_8e1c4d8f11_bShare Netflix and Spotify accounts. If you’re lucky, linger on your family’s Netflix account for as long as possible. If your family doesn’t have Netflix or doesn’t have room for you on their account anymore,, split an account between your friends or roommates. This also applies Spotify. A single Spotify is $10 while a family Spotify is only $15 for up to six people.

Only use free beauty samples. Did you know that places like Sephora and Lush will give you free samples? Sephora allows you to get three samples from each ‘world’ (makeup, skincare and fragrance) per visit. And that’s not just three total — you can score three samples from each department, meaning you can leave with up to nine samples per visit. Lush is also happy to give out samples. The only limit are items like bath bombs and bubble bars, which you cannot sample.

Look for rebates and coupons. Apps like Ibotta find you rebates for products at stores like Target, Walmart and even Whole Foods. Just scan your item and they credit your account for the rebate. Many stores also have coupon apps, such as Target’s Cartwheel. Add coupons to your cart and when you’re ready to purchase your items click “checkout.” All of your saved coupons will be combined into one scannable barcode.

Buy in bulk. Instead of buying snack packs of chips or nuts, buy bulk bags and divvy out servings yourself. Use plastic snack bags and reuse them or invest in some small reusable containers.

Make your own toothpaste. For some, this may seem a little desperate and for people who really need the extra enamel protection maybe skip this tip. Others, all you need is a glass jar, ⅔ cup of baking soda, 1 tsp of salt and 1-2 tsp of peppermint extract. Then add water until you’ve reached the desired consistency. BONUS: Making your own toothpaste also cuts down on waste meaning it’s better for the environment too!

Hang your clothes. Whether you go to the laundromat or have a dryer at home, if you’re looking to pinch pennies, skip the dryer and the let air do it’s magic. You can easily save yourself a couple dollars each load by hanging up your clothes instead.


How Multitasking is Actually Destroying Your Productivity

January 26th, 2017 by

You probably think you’re a multitasking master; we all do to some extent. Right now, you’re probably reading this post, finishing up a text to your roommate and jamming to some tunes, all while contemplating what you’re making for dinner tonight. The truth is, multitasking actually makes you less productive… significantly less productive.

4453018910_613ea8d637_zThe term multitasking first appeared in the 1960’s as a term to describe computer functions, not people. The word was created to describe a computer’s ability to quickly perform many tasks at once. Multiple tasks sharing one resource — the CPU. However, the term has since been taken on to mean multiple tasks being completed at the same time by one resource — a person.

Unlike a computer, the human brain cannot process multiple tasks quickly. Every time you switch between tasks or thoughts, it takes your brain seconds to minutes to refocus and actually complete the task. Some research suggests that avid multitaskers actually lose up to 40 percent of their productivity each day attempting to multitask.

Multitasking during meetings or conversations is especially unproductive, even rude. If you’re checking your email or social media accounts during a call or meeting, then you aren’t giving the person speaking your full attention. You’ll likely miss important facts and find yourself lost.

Having trouble breaking your multitasking habit? It may not be entirely your fault. When we multitask, the hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released, which overstimulate the brain and cause fuzzy thinking. This overstimulation occurs every time you finish reading a post, sending a text, etc. Your brain then rewards this overstimulation by releasing endorphins. This creates a feedback loop where you become unfocused and then rewarded. Essentially, your brain becomes addicted to multitasking.

Want to kick the habit? Try using a productivity technique that forces you focus on one task at a time. Maybe try the Pomodoro Technique (featured here) or maybe a simple to-do list to keep you on track. Better yet, take the Next Step Academy course on time management to remind you that you can do it all — just not all at once.


Four things you MUST do after the first week of spring semester

January 19th, 2017 by

Many of you finished up your first week of classes for the spring semester. Get organized early and there is no doubt you can be successful this semester.  Here are four ways to get started:

keep-calm-and-read-the-syllabusMake copies of your syllabus. If you weren’t given a hard copy in class, print out your syllabus. In fact, print two copies. Keep one in your class folder or notebook and keep one in a file at home. Professors often make changes to the syllabus throughout the semester, so it’s a good idea to keep a copy with you at all times so you can document changes as they occur. You should also file a copy away for future reference. If you plan on transferring schools in the future, a copy of your syllabus may be needed to verify a class you want to count towards your degree.

Learn the online structure. Most classes these days have some sort of online component. You may have online quizzes or you may need to submit assignments through an online portal. Make sure you understand how to navigate the online component and ask your professor questions if you don’t understand something. This way you can be proactive and prevent issues before there’s a deadline involved.

Create a weekly homework list. Your syllabus, in addition to outlining class policies, often includes a list of assignments. Get a planner and write these due dates ahead of time so there are no surprises later on in the semester. This can help you stay organized and manage your time efficiently this semester.

Get your materials. While you may be able to look up class materials ahead of time, as a general rule I suggest waiting until after the first day of class. More than once I’ve had a teacher switch textbooks on the first day after I’ve already purchased a different book. Wait until class to confirm what you’ll need before you hit up the bookstore. Also make sure you enough pens, notebooks, folders etc.


Give Your Speech Writing Flair

December 15th, 2016 by

You’ve been tasked with giving a speech to a large audience and you want to make sure it’s memorable. Here are several writing techniques you can implement to give your speech flair and get the point across.

2756494307_a0380a96e0_bEpiphora. This is the use of repetition at the end of successive clauses or phrases. Using epiphora is a great way to emphasize a specific point and amplify an important idea. A famous example of epiphora you may be familiar with is from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

“… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people,
by the people,
for the people,
shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln repeats “the people” three times to reinforce the idea that the government is not an abstract idea, but an institution interconnected with the people it governs.

Anaphora. Like epiphora, anaphora uses repetition except at the beginning of a clause or phrase with the same goal of reinforcing a point or idea. Martin Luther King Jr. used anaphora at a rally in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

I’m tired of war and conflict in the world.
I’m tired of shooting.
I’m tired of selfishness.
I’m tired of evil.”

Chiasmus. If you’ve heard the phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” then you should already have a pretty good understanding of chiasmus. Chiasmus is the repetition of two words or phrases in a successive clause but in the reverse order. Chiasmus is a catchy technique and has been used in famous speeches such as John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.

“Ask not what your country can do for you
— ask what you can do for your country.”

Trying to sharpen your speech writing? Take Next Step Academy’s NEW course “Developing Public Speaking Skills


Tips for Getting Through Finals

December 13th, 2016 by

Before you can officially enjoy the holiday season, you have to get through the dreaded finals week. Whether you’re cramming in the last bit of studying or frantically finishing a report, stress levels tend to rise at the end of the semester. Make sure you are taking care of both your physical and mental health during finals. Here are four tips for getting through finals and preventing burnout.

Snack smart. It’s tempting to reach for energy drinks and potato chips during late night work sessions. However, a high caffeine and sugar intake will actually cause you to burn out faster and junk food can make you feel bloated and sluggish. Instead, choose healthier alternatives to boost your energy. You can drink caffeine, but choose something like tea that provides a much lower dose than coffee or energy drinks. As for snacks, fruit and nuts will fill you up and give you a positive energy boost.

6359780403164185121342282463_finals-babyTake breaks. Working non-stop until you pass out at your desk isn’t healthy for your physical or mental health. Make sure you take frequent breaks to nap, shower or watch an episode of your favorite Netflix show (but just one episode!) If it helps, find a time management technique to provide yourself with some structure. Time management methods such as the Pomodoro Technique emphasize frequent short breaks and intermittent long breaks to keep yourself refreshed and productive during your work session.

With the Pomodoro Technique, you work for a solid 25 minutes, then take a short 5-minute break. After doing this four times, you take a longer break instead, typically 15-45 minutes. So essentially you work for 2 hours, with short intermittent breaks, before taking a longer break.

Get enough sleep. I’m not going to lie, I’ve pulled my fair share of all-nighters. But ultimately, this is the worst thing you can do during finals week. If you study all night, it’s likely your fatigued mind isn’t going to retain any of the information anyway. A good sleep the night before an exam is going to more beneficial than those extra hours of re-reading notes.

Stay off social. Checking your feed during a scheduled break is fine, but don’t leave your social media accounts open when you’re trying to work. The temptation of checking your recent notifications will split your focus and distract you from your work. You may say you’ll only check one post, but that can easily turn into an hour of wasted time scrolling through your feed. Resist the temptation by simply closing the pages when it’s time to work.


Transferring to a Four Year College

October 17th, 2016 by

It still feels like the fall semester just began, but if you’re considering transferring to a four-year school next year it’s already time to start the application process. Here’s how to get started:

6260836872_3581b1512d_bChoose a school. Beginning the college search all over again may seem like a daunting task, but it’s often easier the second the time around. You’ll likely already know the best resources and college search websites available. Also, look back at the schools you considered the first time and see if any of those are still a good fit.

Most two-year schools also have a transfer center that can provide you with information and help you find the best options for your major. Once you’ve considered all of your options, choose at least two to apply to.

Do your research. This is another area where your school’s transfer center can be a big help. You need to make sure the schools you want to apply to have an articulation agreement with your current school and will take the credits you’ve already earned. This will ensure you stay on track to graduate two years after you transfer.

Know the requirements. You’ll need to verify that your GPA is high enough to transfer and whether there are any supplemental materials needed to apply. Depending on your major, you may need to submit a portfolio or collection of previous work. If the school or program you are applying to is highly competitive, you may also want to consider asking professors to write you a reference.

Apply. Mark application deadlines on your calendar and make sure you submit all of your materials on time. Most schools allow you to track your application online, but if you don’t receive a direct confirmation from the school that your application was submitted, you may want to send a follow up email to make sure the school got it.

Need more transfer advice? Take Next Step Academy’s course “How to Transfer to a 4-year School


Finding College Scholarships

September 30th, 2016 by

Finding scholarships can seem like a daunting task, but there are plenty of opportunities available to you. In fact, a 2015 study conducted by NerdWallet found that over $2.9 billion in scholarships and aid went unclaimed during the 2013-2014 school year. The money is out there, you just need to know where to look.

Your first step is submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which tells you how much in federal aid you qualify for based on income, among other factors. For the 2017-2018 school year, the FAFSA opens on October 1st with the priority deadline being December 1st. These dates are earlier than previous years, as the FAFSA is undergoing several changes to make it easier for students to receive aid.

Next, check out scholarship matching websites. Sites such as or ask you to fill out personal information and then find you scholarships that fit your needs and qualifications. These sites often provide a direct link to the scholarship website or application. Also when you’re searching, try to think of what makes you unique. There are scholarships based on gender, cultural background, religion, even height!

While you can qualify for some scholarships based solely on an application, many scholarships require a little work on your part. You may need to provide examples of experience, write a short essay or take part in an event. Take note of all application deadlines and read scholarship rules carefully to make sure you are meeting all the requirements before you submit the application.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to apply for scholarships or grants because you think you won’t qualify. Additionally, don’t discount local scholarships just because they aren’t as lucrative as the $10,000 sweeps contests. You have a much better chance when there is a smaller pool of applicants, and every dollar counts when it comes to finding money for your education.

Most of the $2.9 billion in unclaimed aid went unclaimed simply because students didn’t apply. Take advantage of every opportunity that is out there.

Looking for more help funding your education? Check out our Paying for College course to learn more!


In the News: Changes to FAFSA to Help Students Receive Aid

September 28th, 2016 by

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is making several changes to impact students in the upcoming academic school year. This year, the form for the 2017/2018 school year will open on October 1st with the priority deadline changing to December 1st. This is four months earlier than past years.

top-5-fafsa-faqs-for-2016The FAFSA is also allowing students to use prior-prior-years tax information. Previously, students had to use prior-year tax information. This was problematic for many students whose parents hadn’t filed their taxes yet and were instead asked to estimate. Now students can submit accurate tax information from two years prior to the school year and no longer have to log in a second time to update information once taxes have been submitted. For example, for the 2017-2018 school year, families will submit tax information from 2015 instead of estimating information from 2016.

Changes to the FAFSA will allow students to know how much aid is available to them earlier, giving them more time to accurately assess their financial situation before committing to a school. Before these changes, financial aid information often arrived less than a month before students had to decide on a school. Now students and their families have several months to explore financing options and figure out whether they can afford tuition.

There is some concern that changes to the FAFSA application dates will influence schools to change their decision dates as well. Federal officials have requested that schools refrain from making changes to their own deadlines as this would make the FAFSA changes irrelevant.


Five Tips for Eating Healthy in College

September 21st, 2016 by

Avoiding the dreaded Freshman Fifteen can be a challenge in college. Junk food is readily available, dining halls tend to be all you can eat and for the first time you have the freedom to eat ice cream for dinner if you really want to. Don’t let yourself from unhealthy habits. Keep yourself accountable with these 5 tips for eating healthy in college.  

cereal-1474496_960_720Don’t keep junk food in your dorm room. When you’re working on a paper late at night and you need a snack, you’re going to eat whatever is around. Only keep healthy snacks in your dorm room to prevent yourself from snacking on junk all night long. Need some inspiration? Try apples and peanut butter, veggies and hummus, baked corn chips and salsa, or trail mix (heavy on the nuts and seeds, light on the dried fruit and chocolate)

Keep a snack in your pack. Pack a granola bar or other prepackaged healthy snack in your bag at all times. When you’re rushing to your next class and the urge to snack hits you, it’ll prevent you from grabbing a chocolate bar or chips from the vending machine.

Fill half of your plate with fruit/veggies first. When you’re eating in the dining hall, it’s easy to fill up your plate with pasta, pizza and the special of the day before you even see the salad bar. To prevent yourself from overeating and loading up on the unhealthy meals offered, hit the salad bar first and fill up at least half your plate. If you’re still hungry afterwards, you can always get more.

Don’t drink your calories. The unlimited juice and soda available in the dining halls is extremely tempting, but you’ll end up consuming a lot of unnecessary calories. Keep a reusable water bottle with you at all times and fill up throughout the day. Limit your soda consumption to weekends or when you’re dining out.

Eat breakfast in the dorm. Opt for a lower meal plan and eat breakfast in the dorm. Breakfast food tends to be cheap. So in addition to eating healthier breakfasts every day, you may also end up saving money in the long run. Buy food like eggs, fruit, yogurt and granola — food that doesn’t take long to prep, but will fill you up until lunch. Strapped for cash? Fruit is available all day in the dining hall, so fill your backpack up at dinner and you have breakfast for the week.

Looking to build healthier habits? Take Next Step Academy’s Fitness course!


Three Notetaking Methods to Help You This Semester

September 7th, 2016 by

If this is your first semester in college, or if you haven’t been in school for some time, then your note taking skills may be a little rusty. Here are three of the most popular note taking methods to help you start the semester strong. Remember, different note taking methods work better for different types of learners. Try out a couple and see what works best for you.

Outline Method

Ideal For: Taking notes from presentation outlines provided by the professor, such as a slide show; Taking notes from written material

With the Outline Method, notes are written in an organized layout based on indentation that mimics an outline.

First you write the main topic or general points of the lecture. Then indent the line below the main topic and write subtopics, indent again and record supporting details beneath each subtopic. When the professor introduces a new main topic, go back to the left side of the page and start again.


Ideal For: Content heavy lectures; Lectures with an unknown structure

The Mapping Method is similar to the Outline Method, but is visual and nonlinear.

Use boxes, bubbles or other shapes to outline main ideas, then draw arrows to subtopics and supporting details. This method makes it easy to highlight important points and show direct relationships between information. It works really well for visual learners and allows you to separate topics and information by shapes and color.

Cornell Method

Ideal For: Producing summaries and remembering key ideas; Studying for exams

The Cornell Method has you divide your note page into three sections, providing you with space for note-taking and review.

The first section is created by drawing a horizontal line 2 inches from the bottom of your page. The remaining space at the top of the page is divided again by drawing a vertical line 2.5 inches from the left hand side of the page.

The largest section is where you record notes during the lecture. Within 24 hours after the lecture, use the bottom section to summarize the material and the main points covered. The section on the left is for writing key words and ideas that can be used to create a study guide. You can also use this section to record questions you have for the professor.

Need more life skills hacks? Check out the life skills category at Next Step Academy.


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