At the very beginning of last semester, I was scheduled to take a class that was canceled about 2 hours prior to class time. No one had told me that the class was canceled, there were no notices online, etc. I had assumed that I would be withdrawn from the class, because the school had canceled the class, due to low enrollment.

It turns out that they not only did not withdraw me from the class, but also because I ended registering for another class, they billed me for being over the standard number of credits. The bill is not trivial, about $2500.

Hopefully, this matter is taken care of in a straight-forward way; luckily, the professor who is in charge of my independent study was supposed to teach the canceled class, and well- it is the school’s fault. I have already sent a polite email to my college, explaining the situation. Perhaps I should have checked a little more closely that I had been withdrawn from the class, but- well, it just made sense to me that I would’ve been automatically withdrawn and the class would disappear from the course catalog that semester, since people register for classes a week or two into the semester.

Lesson: It always pays to read your bills, sometimes literally.

A friend of mine with a financial blog posted an entry about a student who is drowning in $200k of undergraduate debt. I began reading more about this student and thought it may be useful to share some practical advice on navigating financial stuff when it comes to college; although I am lucky enough to have not incurred any college or graduate debt, I’ve done extensive reading, navigated financial aid offices (my undergraduate fin. aid office, due to some issues, eventually memorized my student ID), and learned plenty from friends with various amounts of debt. Regardless of how you feel about her and whose to blame for her situation, there is much to learn to protect yourself from that much debt.

  • Seek out financial advice. In this article, this student admits to not seeking out advice and help at her high school. That is a huge no-no, especially for someone who may not have parents with the knowledge to navigate the financial aid scene. You don’t have to parade around the school, announcing you will be a first generation college student. If your college counselor or guidance counselor is MIA (mine was), ask a teacher. They went through the process and may have kids who also went through the process. Other people in your life, such as neighbors or family friends, may also know what to do. If that fails or you’re too ashamed to ask for help in person, look at the internet and do it anonymously. The US government has a site pertaining to financial aid, and there are many, many others.
  • Apply for scholarships. Plenty exist. I already mentioned I am Gates Millennium Scholar, but there are many other scholarships. Even if they are not full-rides, you can piece little scholarships together to help things. Don’t just search the web; your school district or other local entities may offer scholarships.
  • Look at the school’s financial costs and offerings. Not only consider the amount of attending the school (tuition, room and board) but also the amount of aid that the school gives and the percent of students who receive aid packages. Many schools have these statistics on their websites.
  • Consider extra expenses. Books, travel back home for the holidays, laundry, fun all add up. Make sure to include them in the cost. Also, if doing a study abroad program is part of your plan, make sure that your school extends its financial aid so that you can do that.
  • Negotiate Your Financial Aid Package. If your financial aid package doesn’t offer the amount you need, call up the financial aid office of that school to ask if they would reconsider giving more aid to you. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Ask questions! Before you sign anything (loan, financial aid offer, military agreement), make sure you fully understand what’s going on and that it’s all written out. Bring someone along if necessary. You are signing a legal document that someone will collect on eventually.
  • Transfer into a better school. Some students choose to take a year or two at a community college before they go to a bigger name school; some colleges even have built in programs that allow for that. Small warning: check to make sure each semester that you are taking classes that can transfer into your next college. Some people make the mistake of taking courses that will not transfer in and then have to take extra credits sometime. The registrar’s office should be able to confirm what will and will not transfer in.
  • Consider your goals. Ultimately, what do you want to do with yourself? A working teacher in one of my classes made the good point that it may not make sense to go to an expensive school and get saddled with debt if a) you’re planning on entering a career that will not pay well, b) you’ll end up needing more education, and c) the prestige doesn’t matter much in that career. Although he was talking about people going to expensive schools to become teachers, his point is something to be considered. I’m not telling you to skip going to a prestigious school (certainly, there are worthwhile aspects to prestigious schools), but it is something to keep in mind. In my experience with physics, those who get into physics graduate schools are not just MIT and CalTech grads but a motley group of students. A lot of what factors in is what you do with your education there and once you get out (and some of it is simply luck of the draw). Community colleges and less prestigious schools may be a better fit for your goals. I’ve known incredibly bright people who have attended less prestigious schools, who were very pleased with their educations. I’ve also known people at more prestigious schools who were not happy with their educations; I’ve known less than bright people who have attended some of the best schools in the US. Of course, I’ve known plenty in between at all types of schools. A name school doesn’t guarantee a top-notch education or being surrounded by geniuses. It definitely does not guarantee a job.
  • Negotiate your loans. If you are struggling to pay your loans, not answering the phone or responding to mail will not make them go away. This past October, the Boston Globe posted some excellent tips to handle your student debt.

With college application season full in progress, it is important to keep these thoughts in mind. The most important thing to do is be honest with yourself. Weigh in what’s important and what you’re willing to sacrifice. The point of this entry isn’t to dissuade you from going $200k in debt for an undergraduate (or graduate) degree but help you consider your options and realities. With the economy being what it is, landing a job period is tricky, let alone landing a job that helps pay back high debt. Good luck!

The title says it all. Last week was particularly busy, because I had work due, dance stuff out the wazoo (two Bharatanatyam classes and Meiver’s fan veil workshop), and my teeth were getting the dental care that they so desperately needed.

Boston University’s Dental School offers a fairly low-cost dental plan for most students in the Boston-area (check to see if your school is listed). Dental insurance is incredibly difficult to obtain, period, let alone to get for a reasonable price. For about $300 per year, I can get my teeth cleaned, my cavities filled, and a few other services. Nothing fancy like root canals or crowns, but having had to pay out of pocket for the basics, $300 is a steal price for basic care.

The person treating you is a student, but despite hearing horror stories about student dentists, I have had nothing but top-notch care (I have gone to Tufts for work before). A dental professor also checks out the student’s work to ensure s/he did a good job. I’ve been pleased with BU’s service thus far.

The downside is waiting. Getting an appointment is tricky, since your student dentist is still in classes and needs to schedule around those. You have to wait at the office, because the dental professors typically have a few students to check. It isn’t terrible, though; I usually check my email or listen to music while I wait.

I’m slowly getting more time for things and have more things to write about than time permits :).

I think some people were surprised when I talked about my new incentive to cook well for one person. Here is what I typically eat during a week.

  • Stir fry
  • Pasta with some kind of sauce and veggies
  • Something instant (like frozen pierogi)
  • Lentils and rice

There are other things that I randomly fill out the week with, but these are pretty much weekly staples. They’re cheap and fast. I think the next move to fast (for me) and easy cooking will be a crock pot. I’m starting to investigate what one can do with them; it turns out they are pretty versatile.

I recently decided to do a better job cooking for one person (myself). I’m mediocre at it. Cooking for one is difficult, because ingredients come in large quantities. I eat leftovers, but there have been times where I eat the same meal 4-5 times in one week. A delicious meal isn’t as good if you’re eating it that often. I also don’t want to be wasteful with ingredients. Firstly, I don’t like throwing out food or dealing with rotting, molding food. Secondly, I don’t want to waste money. Being a grad student who is only supported by a stipend and scholarship money means I have to be careful with how my money is spent. I don’t have to eat Ramen every night, but I also cannot buy exotic fancy foods or waste non-exotic, non-fancy foods. Grad school also means not a lot of time to shop, prep, cook, etc. The other qualifier is that I’m vegetarian, so I think may impact cheap and quickly made food, but I’m not sure.

My Google searches have came up with a few blogs that I will read soon; there is backlog in my life. However, I figured I’d ask here if anyone has any good blog suggestions on this topic or has tasty recipes to offer.

In the recent months, my need for costumes has increased. I mean an actual need, not just simply a desire. Meiver’s show- I need 3 costumes (the thobe, two Egyptian-syle sets). For my Bharatanatyam class recital, I need one Bharatanatyam costume. I’ve been trying to make wise choices for what I buy. The reason I own very few costumes is money. And by few, I mean, I now have one Egyptian-style skirt and bra set, 1 thobe, and 1 Bharatanatyam costume.

My Bharatanatyam costume and jewelry was purchased by a friend who went to India this past summer. I sent him with specific instructions of the style of costume and my measurements. I waited anxiously. Bharatanatyam costumes, as far as I can tell, cannot be purchased in the US. My dance teacher only recommended places in India, and I wasn’t able to locate a shop, even in NYC or Chicago. I had two options, other than my friend: buy a used costume or buy online. Although I’m not adverse to used costumes, I know I’m a hard fit. I’m short and thin with some curve. Buying online meant really high shipping and no idea what the costume would look like. That’s why I opted for my friend, whose taste I trust.

I just got my costume Saturday, so I haven’t taken photos yet; I plan on posting them tomorrow. My friend did an excellent job of picking out a pretty olive colored costume. The measurements seem like they worked out overall. The blouse is a bit shorter than I would’ve liked, as well as having too tight sleeves (I get muffin top on my arms!) and too tight in the bust. That was peculiar, since I haven’t gained weight this summer, and my teacher made my measurements an inch too big intentionally, since she claims that the costumers always make the costumes too small. The good news is that the seams are huge and have enough extra fabric that I can increase everything, except the length; I’m hoping that by increasing the width in the bust area that the blouse will be a bit longer on me.

I’ve tried on the pants and the bells. Although I don’t want the costume to become sweaty and/or ruined, it will take practice moving in it. I didn’t realize how much the costume restricts movement. Maybe restrict is the wrong word, but it definitely changes how I move. I haven’t had the chance to try on the rest; it appears that Bharatanatyam costumes are much more complicated than a Middle Eastern dance costume. I seriously couldn’t figure out how to wear anything but the blouse, the pants, and this covering for the pants. Even though I’m not the kind of person who goes crazy with costumes, I have to admit it is really exciting to have a nice costume to wear for a performance.

With the show fast approaching, I need to obtain a bra and belt set. It turns out that I cannot borrow one and for me to make one- well, there isn’t enough time. There isn’t enough time to comission someone else to do it, either; my plan was originally to get a nice costume for this local designer named Shadia. Shadia’s work is gorgeous, I hear she’s very reasonable with cost, and she’s local, so that means I can get things fitted to me by her. Even with sending your measurements to the costume designers abroad, people still end up having to adjust. I figure that I’d rather have something fit me right away.

But I digress. I’m learning why I have never bought a bra and belt set of any flavor. They’re kind of pricey. That isn’t to say that they aren’t worth it, but a few hundred dollars is a lot, even if it’s great quality and will last. The ones that are cheaper may fall apart significantly faster, and most of them honestly are not my style. There’s also the issue of fit. I’m short, and on the smaller side; a lot of costumes are not surprisingly made for people of average proportions.

I’ve posted on Bhuz just now, in hopes someone has an amazing bra and belt set that I can purchase. On one hand, spending that much scares me. I try to be cautious with my money. On the other hand, a good bra and belt set should carry me for quite awhile. I’ve remained more or less the same size for the past few years, and I’m always impressed with how different accessories and skirts can change the look of the bra and belt. Even though finding a good set is a current struggle, I’m excited to own my first real costume.