Friday, May 31, 2013

What's The Best Backpack for College?

If you are currently out shopping for a new college bookbag, then you might be looking for the best of the best. The truth is that there is no one bag that is the best choice. Why? Because each person has different needs.

For example, if you do not plan on taking your laptop to class with you, then you have no use for a backpack with a laptop compartment - even if it is the best rated among the bunch. And on the flip side, if you have to take your laptop with you to class then a bag without a dedicated space is out of the question for you.

I can give you this advice - do not get a bag that is any larger than you actually need. The last thing that you want to do is to be carrying around a bulky pack that is not really loaded up with much of anything. And if you expect to carry around a bunch of stuff (say your major is English or science related = lots of textbooks), then you definitely want to look for one that was designed with comfort features like ergonomic straps and a padded back area - as well as great airflow for the back so that you don't get all sweaty on your walks across campus! Also, if you are going to have your laptop with you - definitely try to avoid carrying it in a separate bag as that will be just too much to handle. Plus, it will lead to some achy arms and shoulders at the end of the day. Trust me - I learned that the hard way!

So, where do you get started on your quest for the best college backpacks? Right here.

At that link, you'll find my very favorite backpack from SwissGear.

How To Find The Cool College Backpacks?

I made the mistake of taking my mom with me when I went shopping and she went right for the cheap backpacks. You know - the mostly boring ones that, while practical, really lack in the visual appeal department. And even though I was on a poor, broke college student budget and these ones were clearly in my price range, they really were not anything at all what I was looking for.

Now, I knew that I could find something great and still stay within my low budget, but my local stores were just not going to cut it. So instead, I took my search to the web where I knew that it would be easy to find some of the best and coolest backpacks, like some of the ones on this site. In fact, that was how I first found out about some of the really stylish models from Thule and Dakine. And with a little investigating online, it was easy to see that there were so many more awesome options on the web compared to in the stores. It is almost like the local shops stock only things like vanilla and chocolate while online has more varied flavors, if ya know what I mean.

So yeah, if you are not happy with just your average, run of the mill bag - then please check out what all is available at online shops. You will be so much happier with your purchase if you end up finding a super cool design or something from an online shop.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Choosing A School Based on Financial Aid Package

Selecting the college that you want to attend is a highly personal decision. For someone people, they only have a single school that they apply to because for them there is simply no other choice. This often happens when the parents and other family members have all attended the same university. In some instances, it may be a matter of just wanting to go to the school of your favorite college sports team.

Others may narrow down the possible schools based on programs available or the reputation of certain programs. College reputation itself can also come into play, which is why some people opt for expensive private schools over cheaper local schools.

One of my brothers picked his school using a completely different method. He applied to a variety of different schools. It included:

  • in-state schools
  • out-of-state schools
  • private schools
  • public state schools
He was accepted to each and every college that he applied to. So, how did he make his selection? He went with the one that gave him the best and most comprehensive financial aid package. Personally, I think he was extra smart about it. Why? Because he just graduated with a four year college degree and zero student loan debt. He has zero college debt actually. And his financial aid package was so large that he was able to do a study abroad program at no additional cost. That is correct - it cost him nothing.

This was a great way for him to get the college degree that he needed without having to go into a huge amount of debt to do so. In fact, with the economy being so terrible, it was nice for him to graduate and not have to worry about trying to get a job immediately to pay off those loans. He actually did find a job fairly quickly but was laid off not too long after that. However it was not a huge source of stress for him since he did not have to send any monies to Sallie Mae.

So, if you are not dead set on a specific college or the like, you just might want to consider casting a wide net and picking the institution that offers you the best fin aid package.

Don't Just Buy Any College Book Bag!

When I was doing all of my back to school shopping for my first semester of college, I just grabbed up first cool looking college backpack that I came across. I went more for visual appeal than for practicality. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it (sadly) was not. In fact, not too long after the semester started, I ended up having to actually go out and buy a replacement bag that was more functional and fit my actual needs instead of my wants.

You see, if this is your first time attending university, then you may not be prepared for the sheer number of textbooks that will be required for your classes. In fact, I have had English Lit classes that required more than 10 books just for that class! You know what that means, right? Those cute little backpacks offer little use to the college student who actually wants to be able to carry the class texts in the bag.

For me, I opted for one of the largest book bags that I could find. I wanted one that had a few different compartments so that I could separate things out. You know, sometimes I want to carry my laptop or something with me, so I was also interested in something that had plenty of space for that.

A neat thing that I discovered in my shopping is that you can actually get bags that are made just for girls, which is pretty cool if you have a petite frame like me. Often, the larger bags end up being super bulky on me and not really sitting on my back and my shoulders that way that they are supposed to. So, this was a pretty awesome find for me.

I also found out that you can get some of the bags with wheels and pull handles. This is a good choice if you really do not want to lug around all those heavy textbooks on your back. Of course, these ones also have the straps so that you can wear them too. For me, this style was not really practical since I spend more time cutting through the grassy areas on campus than staying on the sidewalk. It would probably be too hard for me to pull it behind me in the grass, so I skipped this type. But, it might work for you.

Basically, just be sure to check out all the available options before you make your purchase. And remember to consider all of those books you will have. This is especially true if you are taking English classes. And if you are taking some science classes - those will be your thickest and heaviest books. Trust me! Just thinking about my college chemistry book makes my arms ache.

What Is A Good EFC Number From Your FAFSA

Filling out the FAFSA for college is one of those things that always ends up taking me a heck of a lot longer than I think it should. Personally, I am not really sure why the form is so long and that they request all of that detailed federal income tax information. I mean, the FAFSA goes to the Department of Education, which is part of the federal government - and the Internal Revenue Service is also part of the government. So, you would think that they could just share a database or  two right? Maybe it will work like that someday, but it doesn't now so filling out that super long form must be done.

Even though I hate filling out the form, you know that I do it since I needed that financial aid to help pay for my classes. A semester is not cheap and my parents sure can't afford to pay for the cost all out right. If you are new to the college scene, then you should know that you HAVE to fill out the FAFSA each year if you want to be eligible for any type of financial aid - including student loans and grants.

After you submit your application to the Dept. of Education, they will process it and send you a report that contains your EFC. This also goes to your college or all the schools that you listed in the FAFSA if you have not selected a university yet.

EFC stands for Expected Family Contribution and that means that your EFC number is the amount that the Department of Education expects you (if you are an independent student) or your parents (if they claim you as a dependent on their taxes) to contribute to your college education costs.

Sometimes the EFC can be a ridiculous number for your family since they do not take into account any monthly expenses, such as debt payments, or even an income change when coming up with this number. Instead, it is based on your or your parent's reported income for the previous tax year. In my case, my dad is working less this year than the previous year, which means that I qualify for less grants (which is school money that does not have to repaid).

So, what is a good EFC number?

The lower your EFC, then the more free money you will qualify for at your school. Free money is things like Pell grants and scholarships. Some schools even have their own grants that they offer. Regardless of what your EFC number is, you will still qualify for student loans. Even the highest of EFCs qualifies for them.

Often, if you can be considered an independent student, you will have a lower (better) EFC since your income will likely be lower than your parents. And if you (or your parents) have zero income, then that is an automatic EFC of zero!