Apartments vs Dorms

Posted September 21st, 2011 by missrunningstart and filed in Reducing Expenses, Student to Student
Comments Off on Apartments vs Dorms

Student on CampusComing into a new school-year, you feel a little bit older, a little bit wiser and maybe you want to make a change from the dorm lifestyle. If you have the option to move into an off campus apartment you may want to weigh a few things before making a decision.

One thing to consider when choosing between apartment living and dorm is the need for privacy. For those who study best in private and don’t want the distraction of noisy student roommates or neighbors, an apartment is a better choice. For those who tend to feel lonely or isolated, dorm living may be the better option. In the dorms other people are always around in the dorm to hang out, or study. One way to separate who should be in the apartments and who should be in the dorms is by social needs. The dorms are fitted for students who want a more social experience. For these students the dorms are the place where everything happens on campus. Alternatively, apartments are well suited for students who are nearing the end of their college careers and want more control over their study environment. They want fewer interruptions and more freedom regarding where and when they study. Married couples are also likely to choose apartment living for the privacy.

Consider cost too. The cost of apartment living is typically more expensive than dorm living as it includes monthly rent and utilities. Since it is likely that a main reason a student wants an apartment is to have more privacy, the costs of having an apartment may require the student to get a few roommates to share the cost. It is important to consider if the goal may be defeated by the need to have roommates.

Another consideration is where and when to eat. One of the biggest advantages of dorm life is a choice of meal plans provided by an on campus dining facility. However, if the dining hall is near the dorm, then the time spent getting food may be a point in favor of apartment living. This is especially true if the dorm does not have a kitchen or allow in room refrigerators or microwaves. An apartment will normally come equipped with a kitchen with full size appliances. A student can jump out of bed and walk to the kitchen in pajamas and slippers whenever desired. A student that is not on a meal plan has a wider choice of foods because they choose their own meals. However, the student will need to factor in the time to go shopping and a budget for groceries. In addition, the student will need to make sure that she can trust her roommates not to raid her food supplies or she may end up eating out often.

Another factor to consider is proximity to class locations and events on campus. Students who live in the dorms usually are closer to class and the events that happen on campus. Plus, the bonding that occurs in a dorm is something to be cherished. This is where new lifelong friendships can unexpectedly be formed. Also, cheap entertainment happens almost daily on college campuses. Living in a dorm can mean a student has daily opportunities to do something fun and meet new people. Students living in the apartments might have to commute to campus when events happen. Commuting takes time, plus it can take a toll on the gas budget.

If a student wants to access entertainment off campus, then being in an apartment might be the way to go because those living in apartments are not bound by campus curfews.

Ultimately it’s the student’s choice as to where to live and up to them to weigh the pros and cons. It is important to choose the option that best helps the student succeed socially and academically so she will thrive through her college experience.

College Student Suicides

Posted March 30th, 2010 by collegemomindebt and filed in Depression, Parent to Parent
Comments Off on College Student Suicides

My mother’s heart breaks when I read about the students who’ve taken their lives at Cornell University. I can think of no greater loss to a family.  We all expect our children to outlive us and when that doesn’t happen and suicide appears to be the cause, so many questions and doubts arise. 

It is my hope that schools will add resources to help identify students who are contemplating suicide and actively help those students make other choices before it is too late.  It seems like some schools are doing this better than others.

As for my own college age children, I am praying that they will always know that they can contact me any time day or night and that they use the resources on campus and in the community and those that I’ve worked hard to extend to them (like the student assistance plan) to help them make healthy choices.

Time to Breathe

Posted February 10th, 2010 by collegemomindebt and filed in Finances, Parent to Parent
Comments Off on Time to Breathe

Yay!  It’s finally time to breathe.

  • Our 1099 tax form has been completed and filed and we’re getting a modest return. 
  • Daughter Number Two has sat at the computer and entered the remaining data to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) while I hunted down numbers for her from various tax forms. 
  • The FAFSA is done and has been submitted to the federal government and her transfer school of choice.  (I had to recover the personal identifier number (PIN) used for Daughter Number One, but this was an easier process than I had imagined.)
  • Daughter Number One has completed her bachelor and graduate degrees and is working in a job and living in a community she loves.
  • Daughter Number Two is completing Winter Quarter Mid-terms at community college and preparing for a vocal scholarship audition that will occur in two weeks.
  • With the help of a strong antibiotic, Daughter Number Three is recovering from three ear/nose/throat infections and got well enough in time to make a mandatory 6th Grade Band Concert last Thursday.

Now I can relax and focus on other things that need attention like my job, volunteer work, laundry and housework.

Given that my life is composed of many different relationships, responsibilities and interests, there are times when I need extra support.  Even with twenty years of being an elementary school parent, I still need the help of a consulting nurse to know when to bring my 6th Grade daughter in to the doctor for tests.  And after 35 years in the work force, I still need help from a tax accountant to put together my W2’s and 1099.  And even after having gotten one child through the full education process, my family and I still need occasional advice from financial counselors, relationship counselors and legal counselors.  For this reason, I am happy to have support like that offered by the Student Assistance Program just a phone call away.  In these difficult economic times, it is important to gather multiple resources around me so that “College Mom in Debt” doesn’t become overwhelmed and unfit to carry on in all the roles that my family and community needs me to fill.

Thankfully, even though the weather is chilly and I’m a bit weary, I am content and I have some fun things planned for my husband and I this Valentine’s Day Weekend.  I hope all college moms are faring at least as well as me this week.

The Season I Dread Most

Posted December 31st, 2009 by collegemomindebt and filed in Parent to Parent
Comments Off on The Season I Dread Most

Lady filling out taxesAs a parent of a college aged daughter I dread January. ‘Tis the season of getting taxes done early so I can get the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completed. The FAFSA is used by the college to determine our estimated family contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount we will be expected to pay out of pocket for school. The first time I had to complete this form (for daughter number one), I made a mistake and so the college had to help me get it corrected. Since that time I’ve used the form and tax forms from the prior year as a template for how to complete it for the next year. This means I have to get this year’s taxes done, pull out last year’s tax information and FAFSA and put on my reading glasses (yes, I’ve become visually challenged in recent years) and try to relearn the vocabulary of this form.

The first time I had to fill out the form there was no free assistance to help parents complete the form. Now the local school district offers free sessions with support for completing the form. I fully intend to utilize the free assistance. However, the assistance is only offered at our local high school from January 4-7. This means I have to get my taxes done by the 5th of January. And as you can guess, this means I’m pulling together paper work over the New Year’s holiday. What a way to spend my holiday and time off. Oh well.

One of these days my children all will be grown and out of college. When the first New Year’s Day after that time happens I will celebrate in an extra big way. Since child number three is now in 6th Grade, that is some time off, but believe me, I will celebrate when the day comes.

To all you other parents of college aged children, “Cheers and Happy New Year!”

Signs of Distress

Posted December 22nd, 2009 by collegemomindebt and filed in Depression, Parent to Parent, Student to Student

The story below is based on a true story but the names have been changed for confidentiality.

When Tawnya’s grandmother passed away after a long and painful illness it sent the whole family into a tailspin. Grandma had been the spiritual head of the family. She was the one that family members went to when they wanted advice or comfort. With Grandma gone the family stopped attending faith based meetings and stopped celebrating spiritual holidays. Family traditions were dropped. Tawnya’s mother became somewhat bitter. Her father became mildly depressed. And her sisters became somewhat withdrawn. But Tawnya was impacted most of all.

Unfocused student18 months after Grandma had passed away, Tawnya was in college and hours from home. Then Tawnya began to eat less. She found it hard to get out of bed in the morning. She lost her motivation for school. She took less care of her attire and grooming.

Amy was Tawnya’s friend. Amy listened to Tawnya day after day as she became more sad, more irritable and more unfocused in her school work and even in her conversations. Amy was interested in the medical field and so watched many documentaries and television dramas about medical topics. One day she watched a drama about a teen who was suffering from clinical depression. This prompted her to go online to look up “signs of depression”. She found a list like the one at and realized that Tawnya was exhibiting nearly every sign of depression. She talked with Tawnya about this and asked Tawnya to tell her parents and to ask for help, but Tawnya did not act on what Amy told her. The next week Tawnya began to talk about wanting to be dead and having specific ideas about how she might take her life. This prompted Amy to call Amy’s mom.

Amy’s mom had worked in the medical field for years and quickly said, “Amy this is too big an issue for you to try to solve on your own. You need to involve a responsible adult from the college that Tawnya trusts.”
Amy contacted a favorite professor that both Tawnya and Amy liked and trusted. The professor agreed that it sounded like Tawnya was in trouble and committed to call Tawnya into her office to talk with her immediately.

When Tawnya got the call, Amy was in the room. Tawnya’s first response was anger. She asked Amy, “How dare you share my personal problems with someone else. I told you those things in confidence.”
However, Tawnya went that day to meet with the professor. The professor heard Tawnya out and then, while Tawnya was there, she phoned Tawnya’s parents.

Within that week Tawnya was seen by a mental health professional, diagnosed with clinical depression and started on anti-depressants. She told Amy that she was sorry she acted mad and that she was actually glad that Amy had cared enough to involve someone who could help her get better. Within two weeks, Tawnya was feeling better and showing more interest in eating, getting proper rest and doing well in school. Tawnya and Amy retained their friendship and Tawnya got involved in the crisis help line at school. When she tells her story, she talks about how important it is to get professional help for a friend who is suffering from depression even if it could mean the loss of a friend. Confidentiality and friendship are less important than saving someone’s life.

A Shout Out to Hospitable Parents

Posted December 20th, 2009 by collegemomindebt and filed in Parent to Parent
Comments Off on A Shout Out to Hospitable Parents

New Orleans houseWhen daughter number one was transitioning between college and graduate school she opted to go to New Orleans, a city where we didn’t know anyone. She insisted on going straight from college graduation to New Orleans. She was to have a job starting in six weeks and would be in school at Tulane University and living off school loans in two and a half months. But in the meantime, she had no money, no job and nowhere to live. A week before she was to fly to the new city, she asked one of her college professors to contact a church in the city to ask if a family from the church could provide temporary housing. A family responded to the request.

I am so thankful to this family. They provided her a room at no cost for six weeks. They fed her, befriended her, helped her get temporary work at the church as a secretary and helped her transition to her job and housing at a non-profit organization and helped her transition from college life to graduate school life.

This family started as strangers and became friends. Their generosity and kindliness has been an inspiration to our daughter and to our whole family. Now when we get calls to help a student who is coming to our town, we respond positively because we remember that this student is someone else’s child who needs a caring family to help him/her make a transition.

Thank you to those who take in strangers and care for them as though they were family!

Comforting Across the Miles

Posted December 9th, 2009 by collegemomindebt and filed in Parent to Parent
Comments Off on Comforting Across the Miles

Student sitting on concrete with phoneThe phone rings and a familiar voice gasps, “Mom?” And then sounds of sobbing come over the line. My motherly mind races through several sad scenarios and I have to rein in my thoughts of the possible worst to simply ask, “What’s wrong?”

Then regardless of what my college-aged child has to tell me, I have to keep from judging her and the others involved and try to identify any practical piece of comfort or advice that I can give. Sometimes no ideas come and I just need to let her cry and tell her I love her and I am sorry she is going through this situation. If she’s in her room I can encourage her to grab the comforter I made and wrap it around herself so she can feel the hug I am trying to send through the phone while we talk… If she’s sick or injured I can encourage her to call a classmate to help get her to the school infirmary or to an emergency room. If she’s in an airport in an unfamiliar city exhausted and unsure of when she’ll be able to fly out and learning how uncertain flying on standby can be, then I can encourage her to find a chair in a corner and take a nap until she can think clearly and then call me back. If she’s been hurt by a relationship that isn’t going in the direction she desired, then I can listen to the details and then encourage her to seek out an activity that will keep her mind and body active as she continues to mentally and emotionally process through just what has happened.

Occasionally, her father and I have a practical solution to offer. Her father can talk through how to fix a computer or car problem or we can refer her to a resource that can meet her need. But more often than not we can’t supply the practical solution she needs.

It has taken some years for me to learn that we do not need to have the answers. Our daughter knows we don’t always have the answers. She just needs us to care and to listen. And while we hate to have her go through the pain of these experiences, looking back we can see how each experience has helped her to grow and move forward.

Throughout the years as a college mom, I’ve had to learn that there are many things beyond my control. If I spend too much time worrying about these things, I cannot be the mother my children need me to be. Even when my children are grown and far from home, they rely on me to be clear minded, caring and insightful. I can only be these things by being healthy – eating well, getting enough rest and attending to my soul as well as my body. Just as a mother of a preschooler needs a support system, a mother of college age children also needs a support system. For this reason I have used AffinityCare Student Assistance Plan and sought out other women who currently have or have had college aged children. I ask them questions about how they have coped with their fears and worries and I take their advice. This advice has ranged from encouragement to pray, get more exercise, take a nap, get out and do something fun with your husband, etc. It’s all been good advice and so I extend it to other parents who need to comfort their college children across the miles.

25 Ways to Stress Less…

Posted December 1st, 2009 by Maria Pascucci and filed in College Grad to Student, Stress
Comments Off on 25 Ways to Stress Less…

StressedWhen you’re stressed, it’s so tempting to reach for that cigarette, chill out with a beer, or ransack the Oreo’s. We’ve been taught to be a consumerist culture, after all. Marketers spend billions of dollars each year to make sure we know that there’s a product out there waiting to fix all our problems. While there’s nothing wrong with businesses spending money to educate the public about their products and services, there is plenty wrong with manipulating the public, especially young people, into believing that stress management can be bought. True stress management happens when students are empowered with the knowledge that they are in charge of their own destinies, including how they manage their stress.

We cannot solely blame advertising and absolve ourselves from responsibility as passive victims. Think about it. How many of us grew up observing how the adults around us managed stress?  Did we adopt the same practices? Do we reach for a beer to unwind after class or work? Do we light up a cigarette to calm our nerves before a big exam or job interview? Do we turn to ice cream when we’re feeling lonely or bored? Do we rely on caffeine to rev us up during the day and sleeping pills to calm us down at night? Do we want to pass those types of coping skills down to our future children? Don’t we want to create a better way?

If you want to stop turning to addicting products to help you manage your stress, help is here! My interns, Kristen Szustakowski, Mike Madril, Colleen Kersten and I created a laundry list of our favorite ways to manage stress … before you reach for that cigarette, beer, late or pint of Cherry Garcia. If you have your own stress-less ideas, send them to

Follow the link to read the 25 Stress Tips

Home for the Holidays

Posted October 28th, 2009 by collegemomindebt and filed in Parent to Parent
Comments Off on Home for the Holidays

Before your college student daughter (or son) comes home for the holidays there are some things you should probably tell her such as:

  1. We’ve remodeled your room – it is now an office.
  2. You will be bunking in your sister’s room.
  3. Most of your things are stored in boxes in the garage.  You can retrieve them when you graduate and get your own place to live.
  4. Your dog has something like Alzheimer’s and may treat you like a stranger.
  5. Your sisters have been waiting for you to get home.  They expect you to empty the dishwasher and scrub the tubs again.
  6. You’re right – life is not fair – I am raising your younger siblings differently than I raised you.
  7. I never said I knew everything.  You just thought I did until you got to college and learned better.
  8. That new vocabulary you’ve learned at school can be used at home if it is said in a respectful manner (and is acceptable in mixed company who actually know what you’re saying) just in case I should accidentally begin repeating what you’re saying.
  9. The hours you kept at school will not be the hours you keep at home.
  10. What you ate at school will not be what you eat at home unless you pay for it, cook it and clean up afterwards.

Humor aside, it is important to share with your student any changes that have been made in their absence and to exchange expectations for how the time at home will be spent.  Health changes in any member of the family, pets or close friends or associates are especially important to share.

Waiting at the Airport

While at home your student will want to participate in some of your family’s holiday traditions but also will want to spend time reconnecting with friends from high school and the community.  Talking through the family calendar and how your student will reintegrate into that calendar will save a lot of grief.
It is also important for you to be aware that your student may look, talk, walk, dress and eat differently than before she went away to school.  Some students gain the “Freshman 10 to 50” pounds and others may lose weight.  It is also not uncommon for them to have a radically new hair style and perhaps hair color.

It is also important to know that your student may get sick while at home.  I know that nearly every holiday when I came home after a semester away I would be sick for at least three days.  At school I couldn’t afford to get sick, but when I got home and knew I was finally in a place where I’d be helped I could get sick.  I remember how frustrated my mother was when it would take the whole two weeks home just to get me rested and well enough to send me back to school, but I am so thankful she took this role in helping me be successful in college.

One note for you as parent is that it will help if you find other parents who have recently had children in college.  You can compare notes with them and hopefully find some ways to help your family make the transitions ahead with good humor and ease.

Learn how to Take Charge of Your Mental Health

Posted October 22nd, 2009 by collegemomindebt and filed in College Grad to Student
Comments Off on Learn how to Take Charge of Your Mental Health

Campus Calm had the opportunity to speak with Ross Szabo, our Mental Health Survival expert about ways to reduce the stigma surrounding student mental health. Szabo is ithe Director of Youth Outreach for the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign (NMHAC).

Ross SzaboHe seeks to use his personal experience with mental disorders to raise awareness and provide a positive example for young people nationwide. After he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 16, Ross was hospitalized in his senior year of high school for wanting to take his own life. Ten months later, he was forced to take a medical leave of absence from American University and was hospitalized again due to a relapse. Ross returned to American University in the fall of 2000 and began to use his broad understanding of mental health to educate others. Ross graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in psychology from American University with honors in May of 2002.

Ross has recently written a book titled, Behind Happy Faces; Taking Charge of Your Mental Health: A Guide for Young Adults.

Campus Calm asked Ross a series of questions regarding mental health on campus. Read the questions and his response here.