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One Week To Go, and I Need To Talk About It

Buckle up, buttercups, because this is gonna be a long one.  There’s only one week left until classes start, and I’m a big jittery fluffy ball of nerves, anxiety and excitement… Which for me translates to writing ALL the words.

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On Monday, I found myself back on campus, trying again to iron out the details that still hadn’t been wrapped up. I dipped out of work early, in the hopes that I would be able to knock everything out in one visit:

1. Find Out How This is All Getting Paid For
So of course, I started with the Financial Aid office and, as expected, there’s about a million people waiting ahead of me. (Guess I’m not the only student who is still fighting for their aid the week before classes.) Finally I get called back by my man, Fernando! Finally got to meet him in person, which was pretty cool.

So here’s what’s up:

The Good: I was awarded a Pell Grant, a South Carolina Needs-Based Grant, and a South Carolina Lottery Tuition Assistance Scholarship. All total, it’s enough to cover my entire Fall and Spring tuition, with a little leftover to cover a portion of my Summer tuition. Hooray! So my Fall classes are officially paid-in-full now, and there’s no risk of me missing the payment deadline or losing my seat in each section.

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The Bad: I’m on my own for books, supplies, and whatever the remaining balance for my Summer semester tuition ends up being. Of course, I’ve been telling them from Day 1, back in April, that I figured that would be the case and that I would be needing to do a small student loan to make up the difference.

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The Ugly: Despite all of my howling into the wind to let them know that I was going to need a loan, nobody in Financial Aid ever actually initiated the process or even had me fill out a loan application form. So there I was, sitting in Fernando’s office, a week before classes start and I have zero dollars for books (which this semester alone, for my three classes, are running me a cool $500 bucks) and no loan application even on file, much less processed. Neither of us were pleased.

He had me complete the form and told me he would get it processed that night. However, I saw the two very large stacks of loan paperwork he added my stuff to. And I’m fucking nervous as hell, ya’ll. I’ve been checking my WebAdvisor account online every other hour, but still nothing is posted about a loan award amount.

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2. Get My Student ID Corrected and Reprinted
This was probably the easiest part of my visit to the campus that day, thankfully. I had been trying to call the Student Records office all day Monday to see if their ID card printer was fixed yet, but I never could get anybody on the phone, which was giving me mad anxiety.

Since that office is just across the hall from Financial Aid, I decided to take my chances. They were pretty swamped too with kids doing last-minute registration for Fall, so I did have a short wait. Nothing too bad, though. The girl was super sweet and helpful, and got me in and out of there pretty quickly, with a newly corrected ID in-hand. The only kinda crappy part was that she had to retake my photo, which I was totally unprepared for, but whatever. (No, ya’ll don’t get to see the new one. #sorrynotsorry )

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3. Visit The Bookstore and Buy All My Books for the Semester
Yeeeeaaahhh. Well, as we already know from the Financial Aid visit, no books were acquired. But since the bookstore is located in the same building as my last stop of the day, and I was super early anyhow, I decided I would pop in and just to talk to somebody to verify that the printed materials that I had brought with me were indeed what I would need to get all my books once the money magically appears.

Well, quite unexpectedly for this awkward, shy, eye-contact-dodging, introverted lady, the next thing I know I’m chilling there in the bookstore with three other students (two were work study there and one was just hanging out), talking about Game of Thrones and random fantasy fiction novels, and letting them give me pointers on a couple of my classes and professors. So that was a pleasant surprise!

They also clarified for me that that out of three particular books on the list for my Western Civilizations class, I only need to choose and buy one of them. The professor makes you do a big report on which ever one you pick, and I guess it’s a huge part of your grade. And since I prefer to read on my Kindle anyhow, when I got home that night I went ahead and purchased my choice via Amazon so that I can get a headstart on reading.

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4. Meet with the Guy from Student Support Services
This is the meeting that I told ya’ll about last time, that I got stood up for. We finally rescheduled, and were to meet up at 4:30pm that afternoon. Well, even with all of my other business and socializing around the campus, I still found myself parked on a couch in the Student Lounge (where is his office is located) nearly an hour ahead of schedule. And he was nowhere to be found, so it’s not even like we could just go ahead and meet early.

So I spent that hour just messing around on my phone and lowkey eavesdropping on folks around me. A few people were playing pingpong and talking about school and their career goals, so that was interesting. But then. Ugh. But THEN. A couple of dudes came in and sat somewhere behind me, laughing and watching some bullshit on one of their phones with the volume all the way up.

(SIDE RANT TIME! Seriously, when the holy fuck did it become acceptable to be in public listening to/watching stuff on a personal device without headphones? Over the last year or so, it’s become pretty much my #1 pet peeve in life. It drives me absolutely insane, and I see that shit happening everywhere. People either listening to music or watching stuff on their phones, no headphones, just speakers on blast for everybody around them to just fucking deal with. It’s seriously like nails on a goddamn chalkboard to me, ya’ll.)

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The guy, Jamie, showed up right on time, 4:30pm on the dot. We had a really productive meeting! He explained the program to me, and basically because neither of my parents ever obtained a 4-year college degree, I automatically qualify. Apparently first-generation Bachelors students are considered “at risk” and have a much higher rate of failing to succeed in academia because they don’t have a support system at home that really understands what it’s all about and how hard it can be, or how to help their kids succeed. Which I totally understand now, honestly. I can’t help but wonder now if I had gotten hooked up with a program like this during my first college attempt nearly 20 years ago, would I have been more successful? Maybe so.

The Student Support Services (SSS) program basically creates a support system for those at-risk students. They stay on your ass and make sure you keep your GPA up, and require you to spend a minimum of 12 hours each semester in either the library or the tutoring centers. You’re also required to meet with the SSS counselor (Jamie) at least twice a semester, and attend at least 4 workshops per semester regarding study skills, time management, etc. The reward for meeting all of the requirements? Every other semester, you qualify for a government stipend grant that could range between $500 and $1,500 bucks (based on your financial need).

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Not gonna lie to ya’ll, that stipend is the entire reason I signed up. I mean, that’s free book money, yo. And, I mean, let’s be real… I’m actually pretty lazy and undisciplined most of the time. I’m totally getting better about it as I get older, but the struggle is still very real. So I figure the studying, counseling, and workshop requirements can only help me succeed, right?

Of my three classes this semester, two are online and one is on-campus: My English 101 meets every Wednesday at 5:30pm. I get off work at 4:00pm, and my original plan was to go home, have 30-45 minutes to change clothes and eat something, then head to class. But now what I’m thinking is that I’ll just head straight to campus and grab food on the way, so that I can get in 45 mins to an hour in either the library or the tutoring centers each week. Should knock that particular requirement out pretty easily!

Speaking of the tutoring centers, Jamie did walk me over to the building next door where the centers are located and introduced me to the lady who runs them, who actually gave me a lot of good information. Best Part: I found out that they can help me study for retaking my placement test for Algebra, and ensure that the things that I’m learning with them are the things that will actually be on the damn test! (Don’t get me wrong, I still love Khan Academy, but it’s so incredibly comprehensive that it’s taking forever to complete, and I have been finding myself wondering how much of it is more than I really need to know at this point.) And the hours that I spend working on that (which I plan to start doing ASAP) will count towards the requirement for SSS. So that is super exciting!

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So that was my afternoon at campus on Monday! And today, Wednesday, I found myself back over there again. Part of the paperwork I have to turn-in for the SSS program includes a page that has to be completed and signed by a Financial Aid counselor. And since it’s been 48 hours, and classes now start one week from today, I figured that I may as well check-in with my man Fernando about that loan application.

So after leaving work early, getting caught in a thunderstorm that was still raging when I got to the campus, wading through puddles and soaking my work shoes all the way to my feetsies, I finally made it there.  And.  Well.  If I had thought that the crowd waiting to see Financial Aid on Monday was bad…

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That’s just what I could downlow snap pics of from where I was sitting.  There was another area behind me with probably 7-8 more people.   (Including somebody who brought their toddler, which of course randomly started screaming it’s head off at one point, so to shut it up what does the mother do?  Pulls out her phone and turns on some super whiny high-pitched children’s show.  Without headphones.  On blast.  In this super crowded waiting area.  I seriously can’t escape this shit, ya’ll.)

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Finally an hour later, Fernando finally calls me back to his office.  Guess what?  Nope, no money.  My loan is still pending.  Sigh.  But alas, I was still able to get a couple of things accomplished.  He filled out the paperwork that I need to turn in for the SSS program, and he also showed me some stuff I can go ahead and complete at studentloans.gov tonight which keep the process from getting delayed an additional 24-48 hours once the loans get approved.  Basically it’s just required financial counseling that normally they have you do after the approval comes in, but he showed me what to do so I can go ahead and finish it up now and get it out of the way.  Of course, I’m totally going to work on that as soon as I’m finished writing this stupid long blog post.  You know, because #priorities .

So to wrap this up, I’ve basically come to the decision that if my money isn’t there by Tuesday @ 3:00pm, I’m just going to put my books on a credit card, and then once the loan money comes in I’ll use it to pay the bill.  I’m far too Type-A to mentally handle putting it off any longer, and I certainly don’t want to try and rush to do it between work and the start of my first class on Wednesday.  And I absolutely refuse to be that person who shows up the first day unprepared and without her books, regardless if the reason is completely valid.  Not.  Fucking.  Happening.

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A Dedicated Study Space

So I’ve been keeping mum here on a little project that I’ve been researching and planning, and it’s actually been incredibly difficult not to mention it.

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I started working on this project way back in April, and so I’m super excited to finally get to write about it and share with all of you today!

See, I have this spare bedroom in my apartment that has been woefully underutilized ever since 2012 or so, when my last (and final) roommate moved out.  Once she left, I set it up as a guest bedroom.  But the thing is that I don’t really get visitors or entertain much overnight company, and for the last 5 years it’s never once been used for that intended purpose.  As such, it progressively became more of a catch-all storage room than anything else.

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God damn Gordon, the room wasn’t that bad.  Just cluttered with junk and full of disorganized nonsense!

Now you all know that I’ve been working on doing an independent study to get myself up to speed in Algebra, which I’ve mostly been doing from my recliner in the living room.  Which, sure, is super comfy and all that, but definitely has it’s drawbacks.  Between trying to balance my laptop on one knee and my notebook on the other, gently fighting off three cats who don’t understand why Mama isn’t letting them come snuggle up in our favorite chair like they’re used to, and getting a little too comfortable and dozing off while I’m trying to work done, it’s often a less-than ideal situation.  Not to mention that it’s so easy to get distracted in the living room and slip into my leisurely habits.

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However, I’ve often read that studying, like sleep, can be benefited by having a space dedicated only to that one activity and nothing else.  So that when you enter that space, in time your brain learns to respond accordingly and enters into a mode of “Woo!  Time to study!  Let’s get our learn on, motherfucker!”  Which honestly sounded like a pretty great idea to me.

So.  That’s what I did.  I turned that bedroom into an actual usable space which I think will really serve me well when the semester begins next month, and all the years following while I work towards my degree.  Over the last couple months I’ve been organizing and selling off stuff that was in the guest room, as well as slowly purchasing and accumulating Phase 1 of the basic furniture for a home office.  Yesterday my dad and grandpa spend the day here assembling it all for me, and ya’ll, I seriously could not be more pleased with the results.  Time to “move that bus!”

BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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The above photos were taken in the afternoon, just as we finished getting everything into place.  Here’s one more, which I took  late last night after I had settled in a bit more:

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As I mentioned earlier, this is all just Phase 1.  I already have Phases 2 & 3 planned out, and will be adding things like more shelving, end tables on either side of the sofa, wall decor, and some fun lighting (fairy lights, etc).  But all of that costs money, so I am tackling it all in phases, and most important was to get the basics moved in and set up first, and then I’ll slowly add in the other things to finish the office up.

But even in it’s current state, I am just tickled pink by my new study space!

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Khaaaaannn!!!

Okay, so yeah…. That title is a super-geeky Star Trek reference.  #sorrynotsorry  But it’s a bit of a bait-and-switch, because the subject of tonight’s blog post is not actually this guy:

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Or even this guy:

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(Although in any other context, you can talk about Benedict Cumberbatch with me any time.)

But right now, the Khan we’re talking about is this guy:

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This is Sal Khan.  (Not to be confused with Salman Khan, who is apparently some hot-shot Bollywood A-lister.  It’s amazing the things you can learn from a simple Google image search.)  Or, more to the point, we’re here to discuss his fucking amazing website.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me start over:

So as we all know by now, Billie has mad math problems.  At the beginning of this month I bought into that Learning Upgrade software that I discovered, and paid $50 for the first Algebra module.  I finished it up on Friday night, but hesitated to buy the next one.  While I was learning some stuff, I found myself questioning if I was really getting enough out of it.  I also didn’t like that it was nearly all solving stuff on the screen, rather than having to actually work out equations and problems on paper.  So I got the bright idea to google some practice Accuplacer placement tests for the Elementary Algebra section (the part I’m trying to prepare for).

I took a couple, and the results were extremely disheartening.  However, while getting my google on, I turned up a link for Khan Academy.

Khaaaaannn!!!

I very vaguely remembered seeing a blip about this website on some show at some point, I recalled something about it being an education or tutoring website or something.  So what the hell, I clicked.

Ya’ll.  Oh my god.  This website is AMAZING.  I dove into the Algebra I section yesterday, and I’ve already powered through 4/17 units.  It’s infinitely more comprehensive than the other software I was using.  Each lesson I feel like I’m in an actual class, but one than I can pause and back-up when needed.  I’ve gone through about 10 pages of scratch paper over the last two days.  I feel like I’m actually learning and retaining.  Some sections I struggle with more than others, but that’s to be expected.  (No seriously bro, fuck inequalities.)

However, because this content is so much better, it’s also going to take a lot more hours for me to complete.  But that’s okay, I’ve got nothing but time.  Well, sorta.  I still want to be ready to re-take the placement test by mid-July at the latest, preferably sooner.  But I think with Khan Academy, I’ll hopefully be much more prepared.  Fingers crossed!

So far, it’s been a really enjoyable experience overall.  The website itself has a fantastic user interface, and I know it’s silly but I love that you win little badges and awards along the way for completing tasks.  I find it very encouraging, especially when I accumulate enough points to unlock an new cute little avatar!

Most importantly, the videos in each lesson are surprisingly engaging, which is saying a whole lot given how dry the material inherently is.  But Sal does a fantastic job explaining, narrating, and writing things out in ways that make sense (most of the time, anyhow… my fault, not his).  And some of the lessons are actually pretty hilarious.  I mean, really… Where else can you learn to algebra by solving for the number of Chuck Norrises (or Chuck Norrii, if you prefer)?

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Oh, and did I mention that it’s all completely 100% FREE?  Yeah, you read that right.  Sal’s mission is “to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.”  Anybody with a computer or mobile device can utilize this service, so there’s no excuse not to go get yo’ learn on!

I’m also super impressed by the amount of subjects offered.  Once I get through this Algebra I/II nightmare, my next goal is to find some quality study materials for the English Composition CLEP exam, which sadly Khan Academy doesn’t offer.  However, once I check that off my bucket-list I’m very seriously considering coming back to Khan to do the courses on Microeconomics and Biology and then attempt the CLEP exam in each of those.

Because seriously, the fewer college classes I have to take (and pay for) on my way to a degree, the better.

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