Monthly Archives: August 2013

Essential Notes for the Clueless College Noob

Deep down, aren't we all just confused chimps?

Deep down, aren’t we all just confused chimps?

If you’re a first-generation college student, an ignorant ex-Amish kid like myself, or just generally clueless, there are several things you should know before/as you embark on your journey of education. If you know anything at all about college or have friends/family that went to college, then this post will probably bore you to tearful yawns.

Are you Ready?

Most colleges require a high school diploma or GED, before they consider you bright enough to walk through their hallowed doors. Unfair, I know. If you’ve picked a college, check out their admission requirements online. If you haven’t picked one yet, get your GED, because you will most likely need it.

Many colleges also want your SAT or ACT scores. For some 2-year colleges, you may be able to take a placement test instead of the SAT or ACT.

Picking Your School

If money is a rarity, you should seriously consider starting at a 2-year college. In many (most? all?) states, an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree can be earned at a 2-year college. This 2-year degree will (possibly? always?) allow you to transfer to a university (way more expensive) to complete the next 2 years.

The School Year

Most colleges, when they talk about a “year,” are referring to their school year. The school year does not resemble the practical and generally agreed-upon convention of running for 12 months starting with January. At many colleges, the school year starts with Fall Semester (Aug. to Dec.), middles with Spring Semester (Jan. to May), and ends with Summer Semester (May to Aug.). This is what it’s like at my current school; your school may be different.


A college course typically runs for one semester. If multiple semesters are required, the course is often broken into a series (e.g. Calculus 1, Calculus 2, Calculus 3). It is your responsibility to select your courses and register for them prior to their start dates. You may have to register for courses up to months ahead of their start dates. Find your college’s academic calendar. Sometimes, popular or required courses fill up early. Register for your courses as soon as possible after you’ve figured out which ones you want to take.

If you’re going for a degree, the college will have required courses. For example, you will probably have to take several writing courses and math courses at some point before you can graduate.

Each course that you register for will have a syllabus. This is an absurdly fancy term for a multi-page piece of paper that describes the course, the teacher, and the weekly course schedule. It is a hallowed piece of parchment and should be regarded with the highest of reverence. I kid you not.

If you’re like me, you’ll want to ease tentatively into the murky waters of higher education. For your first semester, you should consider registering for courses that will be easier for you. You could also register for less than the full course load. This will keep your stress at a minimum as you familiarize yourself with college life.

It is your responsibility to choose your courses and make sure they don’t conflict with each other. It sucks having to clone yourself after realizing that all four of your courses have lectures at the same time on the same day. Registering for courses requires a lot of charting and hair-pulling. It’s a bit like a puzzle–trying different courses together to see if you can build a complete picture without having multiple courses on top of each other. During the course registering process, you’ll need to note the lecture dates, times, and locations, lab dates, times, and locations, and all exam dates, times, and locations.

Some colleges have multiple campuses (i.e. education locations). Keep that in mind when selecting courses. You don’t want to be hitchhiking ten miles every day just to make it from Chemistry to Algebra.

Many courses have prerequisites. This means there are other courses you have to pass before you can take this one. They just won’t let you take Calculus 3 before Pre-calculus Algebra for some reason. Prereqs will generally be listed in the course catalog–under, over, or inside of the course description.

Some courses have co-requisites. This means that somewhere there exists a course that must be taken at the same time. For example, if you register for a chemistry course, you may also have to register for the chemistry lab course that goes with it.

As if all of the above wasn’t confusing enough, there’s more. Your school may have several different types of courses. There’s the regular kind where you go on campus for lectures and exams, there’s the blended course where you might have lectures online and go on campus for lab practice, and then there are the wholly (holy) online courses. Choose what works best for your schedule and learning style.

When building your course plan, be sure that the majority of your courses are relevant to your degree. It would suck for you to complete 60 credit hours only to find out that only 20 of them can be applied to your degree. Here comes two more years of school… Dumbass! But seriously, if you’re unsure, speak with a guidance counselor at your school.


There are several things you should know about textbooks. The first is that textbooks are ridiculously expensive. The campus will try to sell them to you at $75 to hundreds of dollars a pop. My next point follows quite logically. Don’t buy new textbooks from your campus bookstore unless you absolutely have to. Here is what you should do: Buy used textbooks from Amazon, Craigslist, your campus bookstore, etc., or rent your textbooks from a place like

The other thing about textbooks… be sure that you get the right edition. Many textbooks are updated every year, and teachers often insist on using only a specific edition. True story: I purchased my very first college textbook from my campus bookstore after showing the store lady my syllabus. Guess what… She sold me the wrong edition, and I didn’t discover it until the course was underway, and I couldn’t figure out why the page numbers the teacher was assigning didn’t make sense. The point is, the textbook edition and/or ISBN that is required for the course is listed on the syllabus. Always match these to the one you’re buying.

What the Fuzz is an Undergraduate?

Associate’s Degree: A two-year degree typically earned at a community (two-year) college. It is a standalone degree, but is often earned prior to transfer to a university for two more years of study in order to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor’s Degree: A four-year degree. If someone asks if you’re a college graduate, they usually mean, “Have you earned your bachelor’s degree?”

Baccalaureate: Sometimes used as another word for “bachelor’s degree,” particularly in the European school system.

Undergraduate: Any student that has not yet earned a bachelor’s degree.

Undergraduate degree: Another term for “bachelor’s degree.”

Graduate: A student that has earned a bachelor’s degree.

Graduate study: Study performed after earning a bachelor’s degree.

Graduate degree: Any degree requiring study past the point of receiving a bachelor’s degree.

Master’s degree: Typically a six-year degree… meaning that it requires two years of study after earning a bachelor’s degree in that field.

Doctor’s degree: Typically an 8+ year degree… meaning that it requires four or more years of study after earning a bachelor’s degree. There are different kinds of doctor’s degrees (doctorates). For example, the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is a research doctorate that is typically earned by academics and scientists. To earn this degree, the scholar has to make original contributions to the field. The Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) is the doctor’s degree for actual doctors, and the Juris Doctor (J.D.) is the doctor’s degree for lawyers and the like.

Being a first-generation college student, I was pretty fuzzy on some of these terms until I actually enrolled in college and had to figure out what they meant. Click here for lots more college terminology.

Financial Aid

Well now, it seems that I have just run out of literary energy. Isn’t that unfortunate?

More Questions?

After you are accepted at a college, you will likely have to go to an orientation. This is the perfect time and place to have all of your confusions disentangled. Otherwise, call or visit your college and nag various people (not students; they’re just as ignorant as you are) until they de(con)fuse you. You should also be googling prodigiously at this point (I’m not sure if “prodigiously” should be in quotes or not {get it?}).

Note to readers: If at any point you find my use of parentheses on the excessive side of too much, please tell me. Personally, I love using parentheses because it allows me to play with a phenomenon that excites me at a very meta level: recursion.

Image credit: Chimp image copyright (c) 2009 Tambako the Jaguar and made available under Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license.

Categories: College, College Life | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For the love of math, man!

2013-08-21_2214This evening I went to my trigonometry orientation. Man, was I in for a rude awakening. About a dozen students were gathered outside of the lecture hall, waiting for the professor to finish her pre-algebra orientation. It all started innocently enough. One of the students mentioned that this was her second go at the trig course. Wow, she must really love trigonometry, I thought. Then another student said the same thing, head hanging in shame. Wait a minute… they failed the course on their first try, I realized. Then the conversation drifted to the horrifying as the students professed their mutual hatred for all things cosine and for math in general. Such blasphemy! I wanted to cover my ears and go, “lah-la-lah-la” and pretend I never heard a thing.

I love math. If I could, I would have sex with it and then cuddle with it. When I start a math course, my heart starts fluttering. Not with nervousness, mind you, but with a feeling of pure lust. When I’m at a party, I can’t wait to get home and do the nasty with sines and cosines. I even profess my love for math on my clothing. One of my favorite t-shirts has a symbol of pi and i. Pi is saying “Get real” and i is saying “Be rational”.  I love that shirt. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I wear it in public.

I haven’t always loved math. When I was in Amish grade school, I was at the top of my class. In other words, I was mediocre and sometimes left with B’s. My teachers simply refused to show me math in its real naked glory. As a result, I found math rather boring. But then, wait for it… I saw it… or felt it, rather. My inner mathesexuality.

It happened when I developed an affinity for layman-oriented books on number theory. When I learned that there is no easy way to determine if a number is prime (other than dividing it by every smaller natural number), I was skeptical. I mean, seriously… that makes no sense. The structure of the number line–the distribution of primes–it’s such a straightforward thing, how could there not be a simple formula for determining whether a number is prime? I played around with it, and the hours stretched into days as I tried to figure it out and develop the magical formula. I never did find it, but my fascination with the distribution of prime numbers remains erect… I mean unabated.

Then I learned about e. It had been sitting there on the number line all this time. The utter amazingness of e is so profound that I can’t even find the words for it. And then there it was… something even holier…

e^{i \pi} + 1 = 0

Somebody is making this shit up, right? I mean that’s just too damn convenient. I still haven’t the foggiest clue what it means, but its utter beauty gives me a intellectual erection the likes of which I’ve never experienced in all my life of lusting after equations. It was love at first sight. I’m not a religious person (anymore), but that simple little equation is the closest I’ve ever come to a religious epiphany.

The only math I’m not good at is combinatorics. When it comes to calculating probabilities, I can’t make heads or tails out of coin flips. Well, actually, that part is easy. It’s the permutations and combinations that get me. It’s like math on PMS–about all I can do is tiptoe around it. Double counting fallacy? I will count my apples as often as I damn well please, thank you very much! One of these days I will take a discrete math course. That’ll teach me!

Anyway, I think I hear trig puzzles calling me. Maybe I should return to my homework. I hope this has helped you understand how much I love math. I have just screamed it from the rooftops. One last thought… I like my math how I like my women–abstract and well-defined. Hmm, yeah, I can see that becoming a nerd meme…

Happy mathing!

P.S. That thing I said about liking my women abstract… I think I may have tangled that simile a bit. I actually have a real life fiancee. She is real (not abstract), well-defined, gorgeous, and I love her second only to math.

Image Credit: Get the shirt here

Categories: Math | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Essential Notes for the Clueless Blogging Noob

Yep, that’s me! Aren’t I the cutest?

If you are new to blogging, chances are good that you have unrealistic expectations and no idea what you’re doing. Not a problem. This post will make you an expert! Well, probably not, but hopefully, I can give you a few tips. Over the years, I’ve operated over a half a dozen blogs. Many of them failed, not because they lacked potential, but because I lost interest. Others are average, but one of my blogs succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. I can’t give you the name of that blog because I author it under strict anonymity, so you’ll just have to trust me. Or not. Doesn’t twist my britches either way.

What to write, what to write?

Write what you know. Write what you care about.

How to write, how to write?

Write from your heart. Don’t do it because that’s what will make your readers feel all fuzzy inside. Do it because if you don’t, you’ll eventually get bored and lose interest. Be yourself, but please be a more grammatically correct yourself. Blog readers, on the whole, are a reasonably bright lot, and they prefer decent writing. Pay attention to capitalization, typographical errors, sentence structure, and all that life-sucking stuff. Blogging provides a great opportunity to improve your writing, so work at it!

Pictures are worth a… please God, not that awful cliche again! People like pictures. Even if it’s completely irrelevant to the subject, people will look at the picture repeatedly. That being said, don’t steal pictures willy-nilly from the silly web. If you do take what’s not yours, at least attribute it. Check out the very bottom of this post for my attribution for the above image. Flickr makes things easy. By doing an advanced search, you can choose to limit your search to those pictures under a Creative Commons license.

When to write, when to write?

Write regularly, but don’t deluge your readers. If you feel the need to write a shitload (exactly 3.14 cubic feet) of posts all at one time, use your blogging platform’s (i.e. WordPress, Blogger, etc.) scheduling feature to schedule some of them to be published at future dates. I wrote this post weeks ago, and you would never have known.

If you’re really cool, schedule your posts at about the time when the most readers are online and reading blogs. My guess is that would be in the evening. More people may see your post if they’re searching one of your keywords at that time.

What’s the point?

Write primarily for yourself. If you would be happy pouring your energy and time into a blog, even if only a handful of people will ever read it, you aren’t as likely to be disappointed. Sad, I know. You are probably not good enough of a writer, and your life is probably not interesting enough to attract thousands of readers, so don’t write for that purpose. Not very inspiring am I? Do write for yourself. There are many good reasons to blog. It can be like a personal (but public) journal. It can be a way for you to hone your writing skills. It can be a way for you to inflict your sense of humor onto some poor readers. The long-awaited point is that you must enjoy putting in the time and energy to write and promote your blog. Such an enjoyment shines through in your writing and will make it more appealing to readers.


There are many great WordPress themes out there. However, I would strongly suggest that you make sure that readers can actually see the words. Don’t use a black text on a black background. Obviously. For that matter, don’t use a black background at all. I’m talking about the text background, not the wider background. Use a normal font, not some fancy script. If I get a headache trying to read your blog, I won’t return no matter how well you or interestingly you write. Don’t use shockingly huge images. I once got electrocuted… No I didn’t. Don’t hit people with some big flashing red banner. It makes readers want to stab their computer, and that doesn’t bode well for anybody concerned.

How to promote?

Be sure to tag all of your posts with relevant keywords. How else will people searching for your keywords find your blog? Visit similar blogs. Take a look at the keywords you’ve tagged your post with, then search your blog reader for those tags. If after reading a similar blog, you have a relevant comment, by all means–comment. Don’t overtly advertise yourself or your blog. That’s just seems whiny and needy. Don’t post links back to one of your posts unless it’s truly relevant. If you don’t have a comment to make, like the post. The author will see that, and if he or she is anything like me, she or he will think, “Ahah! Another victim!” He or she will then click on your name and perhaps accidentally follow your blog. For you, that means fame. The gist of this paragraph is simply this; become an active part of the blogosphere. Comment and like other blogs, and you’ll get the same.

If you don’t get thousands of followers, don’t beat yourself up. Fame is overrated. After all, what’s fame if not merely having the admiration of millions of fairly stupid animals. Don’t expect too much. Don’t expect a meteoric rise, which incidentally, doesn’t make sense. Meteors don’t rise. Just have fun!

Can I make money?

Maybe. One of my blogs (Sorry, I can’t give the name because I am strictly anonymous on that blog, and I may not always be on here), took off like a rocket, followed subsequently by a meteoric fall. The “meteoric fall” isn’t entirely true, but I did get to use it in a sentence and so soon after pointing out the illogic of the ‘meteoric rise.’ I had unique and inside knowledge of a popular event, and I wrote about it on that blog. My page views jumped from 30 or so a day to thousands a day. My best day was just over 40,000 views. As soon as my readership started going up like that, I signed up for WordPress advertisements, and I ended up making several hundred bucks over the next six months. That was a fluke. I had not planned on it happening, and I didn’t anticipate it. If you start blogging with the intent of making a living, you will most likely fail. Not the most inspirational guy, am I?

That’s it for this episode of Essential Notes for the Clueless Noob. Follow this blog for possible future episodes.

Image credit: Chimp at laptop copyright (c) (2009) patriziasoliani and made available under Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

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The Technology of Elysium

On Saturday night, my fiancee and I watched Elysium–the new sci-fi blockbuster featuring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and one or two other people. The word on the street is that Elysium carries a message about social disparity. It does, in an over-the-top and in-your-face manner. Personally, I think the “message” would be a little more impactful if it was a lot more subtle and nuanced. Anyway, enough about the social satire aspect, I want to talk about the technology of Elysium.

Image credit: Media Rights Capital and TriStar Pictures

Image credit: Media Rights Capital and TriStar Pictures


At one point, Matt Damon’s character puts on an exoskeleton suit and proceeds through some merry bad-guy pulverization. The powered exoskeletons depicted in the film are not that far from reality. Already, several companies have working prototypes of such suits. All that is really needed for the movie exoskeletons to become reality is the development of compact, mobile, and powerful power supplies to power the suits.

Cylindrical Surveillance Drones

At another point in the film, Matt Damon’s character is hunted down by nearly flat, cylindrical, unmanned, surveillance drones that look like miniature flying saucers. This technology could already be out there. Think a quadcopter in a cylindrical housing.

Image credit: Media Rights Capital and TriStar Pictures

Image credit: Media Rights Capital and TriStar Pictures

Police/Military Robots

The police/military robots in Elysium were very human-like in their behavior and fighting tactics. They didn’t have faux human hair or skin (i.e. they were obviously robots), so it’s not like their anthropomorphism was designed so they could be passed off as human. What then was the point of having them fight like measly humans? If the military develops fully autonomous fighting robots, I don’t think they will do uppercuts or roundhouse kicks. If they have appendages, they won’t be arms and legs, they will be guns, bone saws, and other more effective fighting limbs.

When fighting another human, it is reasonable to assume that decapitating him will result in the immediate cessation of all attempts to kill you. Not so with murderous robots. When Matt Damon’s character tore the head off of a military robot, I couldn’t help but wonder why he assumed the the robot’s computer and sensors were all located in its head.

Quite a few companies are working on human-like bipedal robots, and a few of them have build pretty amazing prototypes. The possibility of seeing them on the battlefield in the coming decades is not out of the question. However, I don’t think modeling them after humans would make the most effective killing machines.

Programmable Guns

In Elysium, Matt Damon’s character uses a gun that fires explosive rounds. Better than that, the rounds explode at a preprogrammed distance, making it possible to take out enemy soldiers even when he doesn’t have direct line-of-sight. Possible? Done! Yes, I know it’s scary.

Airborne Machine Guns

One of the bad guys in Elysium pecks at the good guys with a pair of rather boring machine guns on his space-capable shuttlecraft. They should have used something more impressive–something truly terrifying–like the M134 Minigun. I shiver every time I watch a video of that thing in action.


Image credit: Media Rights Capital and TriStar Pictures

Space Station

The best tech of the film is, of course, the giant wheel of a space station. Artificial gravity is generated by the slow spinning of the wheel. Good so far. The ‘coolest’ aspect of the station is the open-to-space atmosphere. This allows shuttles from Earth to land right in the middle of grassy lawns on Elysium. Amazing, yes, but is it possible? I am not a physicist (yet), but I have my doubts about the viability of such an atmosphere.

Wouldn’t the solar wind blast the atmosphere away? Well, not necessarily. The station isn’t that far from Earth so it’s probably within the protection of Earth’s magnetic field.

On Earth, gravity keeps our atmosphere wrapped tightly around the planet. Elysium has gravity too, but it’s a fake gravity. It’s not the gravity caused by mass, rather it’s a pseudo-gravity caused by centripetal force (the spinning of the space station). Would this fake gravity be sufficient to keep the station’s atmosphere on the station? Would inertia and friction be enough to keep all that atmosphere from dissipating into space? To be honest, I don’t know.

Another potential problem is ultraviolet radiation. On Earth, our ozone layer protects us from the majority of the sun’s UV rays. Unfortunately, the Elysium creators can’t just inject a shitload (yes, that’s a scientific measure of volume) of ozone into their atmosphere because that stuff is pretty harmful to plants and animals. Earth’s ozone layer is many miles above the surface, so there’s no worry about breathing it in, but Elysium’s atmosphere is not deep at all. The people on Elysium could live without the protection of an ozone layer. All they would have to do is hop into their fancy medical scanners every few hours to get rid of their nasty sunburns. The plants, on the other hand, wouldn’t have that luxury.


Given current science, I think a lot of the tech depicted in Elysium is doable within decades. Some exceptions would be the medical tech and the shuttle propulsion. I’m not sure how those could be accomplished within the next 150 years, but of course that’s no reason to throw it out of science fiction.

All in all, I think Elysium is a pretty decent sci-fi movie. The storyline isn’t even close to the utter greatness of something like Star Trek (not the recent movie, I hated it), but it’s a good depiction of some of the technology that humanity is on the verge of developing.

Have you seen Elysium? If so, what did you think of it?

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Avoiding Mistakes in your Algebra Studies

Wrong algebra solution.


Algebra is an eminently useful endeavor and a fun (I know I’m a nerd) way to spend time. However, few pursuits offer the variety of potential mistakes that algebra does. I am far from mistake proof in my algebra doings, but I am much better than I used to be. Here are some tips I’ve gathered along the way to reduce stupid mistakes:

  • Algebra typically involves doing a lot of calculations. Therefore, the probability of making a mistake is higher. Train yourself to pay attention to every detail–both in the given problem and when solving it. I cannot tell you how often I’ve pulled my hair out because my solution didn’t check, only to eventually figure out that for some reason my brain insisted that 3 + 4 is 12. I mean I could tell you. Never once did I actually pull my hair out. I feel that I may be losing my point here…
  • If a problem seems unreasonably difficult, or if it gives some long-winded decimal expansion when you were expecting an integer, check to make sure you’re working on the given problem and not some transcription error (i.e. you copied the problem incorrectly when transferring it to your notebook). If the problem on the test has a minus sign, but the one you’ve been working on the last ten minutes has a plus sign, then you should feel silly.
  • For problems with a lot of computation (e.g. factoring large polynomials), it is important to have a clean and organized solution system. That way you can quickly and clearly see how each step progresses, and you can check your work at each step since checking the final solution might take too much time.
  • Draw a box or circle around your solution as soon as you write it down. That way, if you check your solution by writing calculations underneath your solution, you’re not as likely to accidentally write the wrong thing onto the test paper.
  • When checking your solution, always check against the one given on the test (not the one you wrote on scratch paper) just in case you transcribed the problem incorrectly when transferring it to your scratch paper.
  • Always check your solutions! You may think you know what you’re doing, but sometimes you don’t. Trust me!
  • Every time you make a mistake, get to the bottom of it. Were you careless? Were you not paying attention? Do you not understand the material? Vow never again to make that mistake.
  • …and of course, always check to see if your answer can be simplified or factored further.

Do you have any tips on avoiding mistakes that I haven’t covered? Please let us know!

Categories: Math | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking Forward to Fall 2013

Notepad and Pen

Here’s a picture of a notepad and pen. Just because…

For the fall semester, I enrolled in five courses, and I’m excited about all of them. I’m going to note some of my feelings/ideas about the coming semester, and after it’s all over, I’ll see if it went as well as I think it will.

I will be taking all of my upcoming courses online, except for one: chemistry will be a blended course–lectures online, but lab in the physical world. By taking them online, I can work on raising funds to support my addiction to education.

Introduction to Anthropology

I picked this course primarily because it seemed to be the most interesting course that satisfies segments of both the Gordon Rule and International/Intercultural requirements. I know there will be at least four essays, but they don’t scare me–they’re only required to be two pages long. As long as I find the subject interesting, I don’t mind writing the essays. I think I will enjoy learning a little more about the history of that species of rascals that currently infests Earth.

Introductory Chemistry

I’m really looking forward to this course. I’ve always been interested in learning about the fundamental building blocks of nature, and while the elements of chemistry might not be the quarks of quantum mechanics, I think I will learn a lot and enjoy doing it. I didn’t study chemistry in high school, and I’ve never “played” in a laboratory, so I’m really looking forward to that aspect of it. If I can learn the skills to become the next Breaking Bad methmaker, that’d be a bonus. I kid.


I’ve studied trigonometry before, so I don’t think this course will be very difficult for me. It will mostly be review, but I have to take the course before I can enroll for the calculus series.

Pre-calculus Algebra

Same as above. About half of this course will be spent reviewing what I just got done reviewing in College Algebra. I’ll slog through it looking forward to the day when I can finally enroll in that first calculus course.

Creative Writing

I’m still vacillating a little about this course. If I don’t like the syllabus when I look at it, I might drop the course. I hate poetry, but I enjoy writing. I have a moderate interest in writing science fiction, and I’m hoping this course can help me. If you have any advice for me, please leave a comment!

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Summer 2013 College Cost: $843

My first semester in college (Summer 2013) is almost over, and I’ve decided to take a look at what it cost me, financially. First, I want to show what it could have cost me, and then I want to show what it really cost me. I saved a lot of money… I think. Let’s see.

Note: This semester I took only 3 courses (9 credit hours) instead of the full 4 (12 hours).

My college’s cost of attendance calculator for summer 2013, was as follows:

  • Books and Supplies: $550.00
  • Personal Expenses: $533.00
  • Room and Board: $3110.00
  • Tuition and Fees: $1383.00
  • Transportation: $509.00
  • Total Cost of Attendance: $6085.00

Here are my actual costs:

  • Written Communications textbooks purchased from the school: $154.59
  • Sold above textbooks back to the school: ($58.00)
  • Literature Textbook from Amazon: $15.50
  • TI-84 Plus calculator from Craigslist: $40.00
  • Writing Textbook: $4.19
  • Backpack from Target: $72.75
  • Notebooks from Walmart: $7.02
  • Poetry textbook: $14.86
  • Personal Expenses: $0
  • House sit for my aunt for three months: $0
  • Transportation: $43
  • Tuition and Fees: $549.32
  • Total Cost of Attendance: $843.23 (Total Savings: $5241.77)

The first set of textbooks I purchased, I purchased at my college bookstore. Nothing could have prepared me for the sticker shock. $155 for two textbooks! It was utterly absurd. Then and there, I vowed to buy all of my textbooks online, if at all possible. If I would have known the outrageous prices I could have saved an additional hundred bucks by purchasing that first set online.

Instead of paying $90 for the calculator at Walmart (or $130 at the school), I looked on Craigslist. It didn’t take more than five minutes to find one and another three hours to have a perfectly good TI-84 Plus calculator in hand for only $40.

I admit, I splurged a little on the backpack. It took me a good half hour to find one at Target that I deemed suitable. Instead of saving money and going with one that would last for a year or two, I decided to pick a good one and hope it would last eight or ten years.

Here in Florida, rent is ludicrously high (compared to some random place like Ecuador). Here we would pay $500+ per month for a bare studio apartment. Fortunately, I have an aunt that owns a winter home here in Florida, and she needed someone to house-sit over the summer. We pay all utilities and expenses, but hey, we still save thousands of dollars.

I saved on tuition by applying for and receiving $413 from FAFSA. I may have made a grievous error. Keep in mind that I knew nothing about college. I’m the first from my family and the first of my friends to go to college. Keep that in mind before judging too harshly. Before I applied for FAFSA, I researched it a bit and learned that I could get FAFSA for a maximum of six years. Okay, no problem. However, I assumed they used the same definition of “year” as most people do. I had no idea that the current year would be over in several weeks. Well, I received $413 for those several weeks, but I used up one of the six years. If I would have applied several weeks later at the start of the next school year, I would have received closer to $5000. Let’s just hope I don’t need six real years to finish my undergraduate degree.

I live about 15 miles from campus so how could I possibly get through a semester on $43 in gas? Elementary, my dear Watson–I opted for online courses. My college offers most of its course selection online. For both of the writing courses I took, I never had to visit campus. For the algebra course, however, I had to be on campus for orientation, the mid-term, and the final.

I love online courses for several reasons. I suffer from moderate to severe social anxiety which makes it harder for me to learn in a classroom environment. The online courses allow me to study without distraction, and they allow me to revisit lectures again and again–something that is not so easily done with classroom courses. Taking the online courses saves money on gas. Last, but not least, taking them online, allows me to fit them into my random part-time work schedule.

My goal is to complete the first two years of my undergraduate degree at the community college, and do it without incurring debt. This means saving money at every chance I get, and it means working my ass off to make money when I’m not studying. So far, it’s looking good!

Categories: Affording College, College | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Doing College on the Cheap

Here are some things that are making college a lot more affordable for me.

1. Do the first two years in community college before transferring to a university
2. Submit FAFSA every year
3. Buy textbooks online (e.g. Amazon)
4. Sell textbooks back to the school if they have a buyback program
5. Take web/blended courses where possible to reduce transportation costs and to accommodate work schedule
6. Get reimbursed for costs through income tax deductions and credits
7. Apply for scholarships

If you have any money-saving tips for college, please comment!

Categories: Affording College, College | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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