The 5 Questions I Asked At Least 15 Times Before Getting a Credit Internship

Welcome to Part 3 of my 5-part obligation to post about Cornell academic credit internships!

If you’re a Cornell student (or prospective student) thinking about taking on an academic credit internship, then let me be the first to tell you that there are some questions you will need to ask at least a dozen times to your program’s coordinator. To save you that time, here are some of the answers I got from Cornell representatives during my application to the ILR Academic Credit Internship Program:

  1. Can you guarantee me on-campus housing when I get back? Sort of. Once you secure an internship position through one of Cornell’s academic internship programs, the program’s coordinators will direct you to Cornell’s housing department. There, you will receive specific instructions on how to cancel your housing contract for the semester you will be participating in your internship. Concurrently, you will receive instructions on how to apply for housing through Cornell’s housing portal for the following semester, when you will be returning. Regardless of whether you will be returning in the Spring or Fall semester, you will be able to participate in the housing lottery. However, beyond that point, securing on-campus housing becomes a gamble which you take on alone. Cornell University can guarantee you a spot in the housing lottery, but it is still a lottery. Given poor availability or bad luck, you might not be able to live in a building you like, to secure a room size (single, double, triple, etc.) you prefer, or to secure a room you can afford. Still, the housing department will reassure you that most Cornell students never have a problem finding housing through Cornell’s lottery. So rest easy. Know that you will most likely get a room…just not necessarily the room you would prefer.
  2. Is this going to affect my graduation? Probably not. Participating in an academic credit internship can only prevent your graduation in two scenarios. The first scenario is if, by taking a credit internship, it prevents you from completing the credit requirements outlined by your college. However, this scenario is unlikely because most credit internship programs require that you have completed all the required courses for your degree and have a certain number of credit hours already under your belt before you can participate in an internship. It doesn’t hurt to check again, though. I thoroughly recommend it. The second scenario is if you are already failing, or are close to failing, and you fail the seminar or other academic portions associated with your internship. Internship semesters can still affect your GPA, so students on the brink of academic failure shouldn’t rely on an academic credit semesters to be their “easy semester” in college. Once again, however, most programs have GPA requirements which would all but eliminate this possibility. So, 9 times out of 10, if you’re in a Cornell academic internship program, then there is nothing for you to fear regarding graduation. 
  3. When will I know if I’ve been chosen for an internship? Only God knows. My recommendation is to be patient, and expect an answer later rather than sooner. The window for internship offers ranges widely according to industry, companies, and internship type. For example, in my case, some of my classmates secured offers in late April and May when they applied in March. However, other students (including myself) applied in March as well and received their offers in late June, July, and early August. There are many factors which can contribute to the delay. A slow application process and high demand for the position will slow a company’s ability to choose its desired interns. Some industries advertise internship position earlier in the year and take longer to make their decisions. Other industries wait until the last minute but have perfect speedy applicant turnover.  It’s not ideal for you, the applicant, but expect that you might not hear if you even have an internship until several months after you apply. In all cases, checking in with your program coordinator can give you insight into how much longer you will have to wait.
  4. Is there anything else I’m supposed to be doing right now? At some point, you will finish your long to-do list and find yourself waiting for other actors to finish their ends of the deal. Don’t be restless. Check in periodically with your program coordinator to stay on the ball for each phase of the application process, but don’t annoy them with daily emails asking what to do next. Instead, demonstrate your conscientiousness by developing a list of tasks which need to be accomplished and assign them due dates. Completing this list early on in the process and having a program coordinator look over and verify that list can give you some peace of mind at later dates.
  5. How much money do I have to pay this semester? The tuition cost of an academic credit internship semester is, in almost all cases, the same as the tuition cost for spending a semester on-campus. The differential will lie in what you pay for housing, meals, transportation, and other academic expenses. While you won’t need to pay for on-campus or off-campus housing in Ithaca, the location of your internship may demand that you pay for housing in the city closest to your work site. Similarly, you will save on Cornell’s meal plans, but groceries are a new demon you will soon battle. Transportation costs are a new cost which surprises a lot of students, because on campus you can walk almost anywhere. However, depending on your housing and internship location during your internship semester, you may need to burn a couple hundred dollars on public transportation alone. These other costs depend on your particularly situation, and so only you can calculate it exactly. Instead of asking your  program coordinator for this estimate, I suggest you ask them for advice on where to find cheaper housing, transportation solutions, and the like. They might know of some things past students who have interned at your location have done to offset these costs. This advice is what you should be looking for; the math is on you.

And there you have it! I hope this post can be of some use to you. At the very least, I might save some internship program coordinator somewhere on Cornell campus a hour or two of answering these questions for a student 10 or 12 times. In any case, keep a look out for my last list post on academic credit internships, which will be coming out soon! In the meantime, check out some of my other posts below:

So, you want a credit internship…
How to Secure a Credit Internship (Resumes, Interviews, and Other Nuisances)
The 5 Answers I Had To Give At Least 15 Times Before Getting a Credit Internship (Coming Soon!)
The Don’t-Forget List for After You’ve Gotten a Credit Internship (Coming Soon!)

How to Secure a Credit Internship (Resumes, Interviews, and Other Nuisances)

Welcome to the 2nd post in our 4 part series on Cornell University’s Academic Credit Internships! If you’re interested in reading the first post, which explains what the first 5 things a Cornell student needs to do to get on track for participating in a credit internship, click on any word in this sentence. Not this sentence. Or this one. They will send you to…well, I actually don’t know. Good luck.

In any case, as promised, here are some tips on how to secure a credit internship after you have already applied to a credit internship program with Cornell:

  1. Read up on your internship postings. If you have been accepted by your college into their credit internship program, then your next step will to be to apply to specific internship opportunities at participating organizations. Typically, you will be informed by the program coordinator about how to view the internship postings for your credit internship program. Alternatively, you can look for internship posting on CCNet, a job posting forum available to Cornell students. You can also look on the career websites of organizations you are particularly interested in to see if they offer internship opportunities and discuss with your program coordinator if you can pursue those opportunities through an independent credit internship. These internship postings will state the qualifications you will need to apply, including minimum GPA levels, class years, and application procedures. Review these requirements carefully and make sure you understand all the steps you must take to apply completely for the position. Additionally, save a copy of the internship description, which typically contains expected responsibilities for the accepted intern. It will be useful to you later.
  2. Compose a resume and cover letter. The dreaded act of writing up a resume and cover letter is next. If you are not skilled at this mind numbing task, then consider going to on-campus events tailored to helping Cornell student perfect their resumes. For example, in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations, you can attend Resumaniacs, a regular event which occurs each semester in which Cornell representatives from the Office of Career Services critique your resume. You can also use OptimalResume, an online service which provides templates of resumes and cover letters which you can then customize and convert to other file formats. Additionally, you can pick up some informational publications at any of the Cornell libraries or your college’s Office of Career Services. I personally use a magazine I got my first year in ILR that contains a bunch of sample resumes, cover letters, and interview advice. However, you should pursue an array of options to find out what works for you.A quick tip: don’t try to make one general resume for all your internship applications. Customize your resume for the specific position you are applying for. Emphasize aspects of your work history which demonstrate your capacity to perform the specific responsibilities mentioned in the organization’s internship post. If all else fails and you are still unsure of your resume’s quality, go to your Office of Career Services and ask for some advice.
  3. Rock that interview! More often that not, if your resume piques the interest of a recruiter, they will want to interview you before offering you a position. This interview may be done in-person, via phone, or via video-chat (Skype, Google Chat, etc.). Preparing for the interview will be similar to preparing your resume. Again, you can attend on-campus events to practice your interview skills, and you can apply tips learned from Cornell’s related publications and representatives from the Office of Career Services. Most importantly, set yourself up for success by reviewing the job posting, preparing some answers for common or expected interview questions, and dressing well. Don’t be afraid to ask for a different date if the original date a recruiter asks to have their interview coincides with an exam date or other busy day in your schedule! So long as you ask them politely from the get-go, you will most likely be accommodated and can be more at ease for your interview. Just don’t abuse their generosity; show up on the date and time you agreed upon!
  4. Follow-up! Do it! Throughout the entire process, you should be following up with the recruiter of the organization for which you want to intern and to the director of your college’s credit internship program. Whenever you complete a new step in the process, send an email to these individuals to let them know you’re on track and still enthusiastic about the opportunity. For example, after your interview, you should thank whomever interviewed you for taking the time out of their day to talk with you. You should also let the director of your internship program know that you have been interviewed. These follow-ups are also helpful when you have questions or want to ensure you are doing things correctly. In addition, they can inform you of new opportunities they think you should apply for in the future…but only if you have communicated your interests clearly and have developed a good relationship with them!
  5. Rinse & Repeat. Make sure you continue to apply to new and relevant positions even as you are processing applications, submitting resumes, and completing interviews for desired internships. Not only will you get more experience (which will help you with applying for jobs later on), but you will increase your probability of getting chosen for an internship. However, once you have accepted a position, be sure to follow-up with all the other organizations for which you have applied to positions. Let them know you’re off the market. Otherwise, you will make enemies where enemies need not be made. Also let the director of your credit internship program know whenever you apply for a new position or when you accept an internship. They can then tailor their suggestions for future internships according to your past decisions, and they can inform other students who applied for whatever position you accept that they didn’t make the cut.

And there you have it. Hopefully these 5 tips were helpful, albeit general. As you follow these steps, be sure to check some of my later posts on how to apply for Cornell’s credit internship programs. I promise there will be at least one helpful tip in all that text; there is, after all, so much text.

So, you want a credit internship…
The 5 Questions I Asked At Least 15 Times Before Getting a Credit Internship (Coming Soon!)
The 5 Answers I Had To Give At Least 15 Times Before Getting a Credit Internship (Coming Soon!)
The Don’t-Forget List for After You’ve Gotten a Credit Internship (Coming Soon!)

So, you want a credit internship…

As I promised, today’s post is all about how to secure a credit internship. More specifically, it’s the first of three posts about how to secure a credit internship. If you are a Cornell student (or prospective student) looking into a credit internship, then these posts are a good start for researching how to apply. Feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments section below! I’ll try my best to answer them…no promises, though.

So, to begin, here are the first 5 things you need to do to get on track:

  1. Check if you qualify for a credit internship program. Each college within Cornell University has its own internal credit and non-credit internship programs. Each of those programs, in turn, have their own requirements for application and range of opportunities. You can find out more information about the credit internship program relevant to your college by scheduling a meeting with a representative from your college’s Office of Student Services. You can also check out internship opportunities available in CCNet, a job posting forum available to all Cornell students. In these meetings and searches, pay close attention to those requirements which can affect your ability to apply. Specifically, look for restrictions like GPA requirements, credit requirements, deadlines for applying, and class year. Before getting yourself excited about the prospect of a credit internship program, it’s best to see whether or not you can even pursue one at this given time. Likewise, you might discover new opportunities previously unknown to you or discover that you have more time than expected to prepare for a credit semester.
  2. Ask yourself the big questions. Is it feasible for you, given your current circumstances, to pursue a credit internship program? Do you have enough credits and time before graduation to ensure that you can finish the credits necessary to graduate? How will you support yourself financially during your internship? Are there certain locations, industries, or organizations in which you would like to intern? Overall, you need to know from the onset what you can do and what you want to do. If they don’t match up, then you should talk to your family, friends, and other support groups to brainstorm how you can make this program work. Or, you may even want to reconsider taking on a credit internship altogether. By the end of your analysis, you should at least have a clearer idea about what you hope to gain from a credit internship. Ask yourself the most important question: what kind of internship would I need to have to make me better off for having had it?
  3. Express an interest in your program of choice. Now that you know which programs you can apply for and what kind of experience you want to have, pick out the opportunities which match your interests. Then, talk to the Cornell administrators of those programs and learn more about those opportunities. Tell them about what you are looking for and ask them if they think these programs are a good fit for you. They might point out something about the program–an additional requirement or special accomodation–which can shape your desire to apply. Then, ask them how you can get more information about the specific internship opportunities available in the program for the semester you want to apply for and about how you can apply. Attending relevant information sessions and talking to past participants in the program can be very helpful at this stage.
  4. Wait, you haven’t applied yet? Well, get moving! Assuming that after all your research you are still interested in applying for a credit internship program, you should apply quickly! Not so quickly that you do a terrible job in crafting your application, but still quick enough that the deadline doesn’t fly past you in a blur to your surprise! Be diligent. Mark deadlines on your calendar and review the application procedures for your program. Make a plan for how and when you are going to finish the different application components. Some programs just require an expression of interest to the program director and a resume. Others require a lot of paperwork. Don’t lose out on a great opportunity just because you forgot to apply on time!
  5. Don’t stop now! There is more applying to be done! Now that you’ve applied and been cleared by Cornell University to partake in their program, you have to convince your organization of choice to let you be their credit intern. Similar to applying for the program generally, you need to research what opportunities exist, consider how those opportunities align with your personal interests, take note of the deadlines and application requirements, and express interest in the position by attending related information sessions and other events. Once you’ve narrowed down the specific internship postings you can apply for and are interested in, you then need to apply for the position. Most often than not, this phase requires a resume, interview, and other documentation. I’ll cover these steps in a seperate blog post entirely. For now, just now that you’re not done until you’ve applied directly to those employers of interest. Make sure you apply through the correct channels, and double-check with your program director that you have taken all the required steps to apply for the postings you most want to acquire. Also, don’t settle for just one posting; cast a wider net (but only for positions relevant to your interest) in case some opportunities just don’t pan out.

Ladies and gentleman, if you have come this far then you have officially applied for a credit internship position through a Cornell University’s alternative semester program! Give yourself a pat on the back and a four-leaf clover for good luck.  Maybe even a cookie or two…or twelve…whatever makes you happiest.

I hope this information can help those readers who are seriously considering applying for a credit internship program. Once you are at the last step, consider reading some of my later posts to continue preparing yourself for the steps ahead. Here are some links to get you started:

How to Secure a Credit Internship (Resumes, Interviews, and All the Other Nuisances)
The 5 Questions I Asked At Least 15 Times Before Getting a Credit Internship
The 5 Answers I Had To Give At Least 15 Times Before Getting a Credit Internship (Coming Soon!)
The Don’t-Forget List for After You’ve Gotten a Credit Internship (Coming Soon!)

The New Team: Work-Study & Blogging Off-Campus

Last week, the Life on the Hill bloggers had our first on-campus meeting for the Fall 2014 semester. Usually I attend these meetings in-person. However, I wasn’t on campus last week because of my participation in ILR’s NYC Fall credit internship program.  As result, I could only attend the meeting via Skype. Still, the whole crew was very friendly, and I met all the new students who joined our team this year. We even got together for a group picture before running off to our classes (or, in my case, to another meeting):

There I am on the left-hand side of the computer screen

There I am on the right-hand side of the computer screen

I greatly appreciate the Life on the Hill blogging team for allowing me to continue as a blogger off-campus. As some of my older readers know from previous posts, I rely heavily on my work-study allocation and on-campus jobs to make financial ends meet. While scholarships and federal financial aid pay the bulk of my tuition, other costs like housing, textbooks, meals, and the like come out of my family’s pocket. Having jobs on campus allows me to pitch in and pay for some of those expenses myself.

In past posts, I’ve talked about how difficult it can be for students to find jobs or work-study employment in Ithaca. The Life on the Hill student blogger position isn’t a work-study job, but it pays monthly and the work is flexible enough to  maintain easily alongside other work-study employment on campus. It isn’t the highest paying job I’ve had, but it is the only job which isn’t site-specific. That means I can do the work at any time and at any place, so long as I finish before the end-of-the-week deadline.

As a Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior undergraduate student, I never considered flexibility to be a quality more valuable than pay in an on-campus job. Sure, it was a factor to consider; flexibility was extremely important in balancing my academics and work. Ultimately, however, a higher pay meant that I could cover my bills in a shorter time frame, making it a necessity rather than just a convenience.  I didn’t mind walking in the snow for several miles each weekend to a job site if it meant I could cover my expenses within a week, instead of within a month.

Being able to eat tomorrow always trumped being able to sleep in today. 

Nevertheless, I kept the student blogger job anyway because it was easy to maintain and I enjoyed writing. As a Senior, it is now the only job (aside from my internship) which I still have. I never would have predicted as a younger student that, of all the jobs I would come to have, blogging would be the only job I would retain by Senior year. What I never considered back then was how on-campus employment changes when you participate in an off-campus alternative program. Suddenly, that job which is just a few miles away in the snow is now an impossible 200+ miles away. The jobs which aren’t site-specific are now the only jobs you can have because you no longer live on campus.

Participating in an off-campus program isn’t without its costs, either. You still have to pay tuition and, although you maintain most of your financial aid package, it can be modified in ways you weren’t expecting. For example, my work-study allocation was severely reduced and a federal loan was added to make up the difference. Other students experienced similar changes, as well. It’s difficult to predict what your tuition costs will be for an alternative semester because of these variances. As result, it can also be difficult to prepare for, making student employment even more critical in covering tuition.

Furthermore, while you might not have a housing contract with Cornell, you still have to pay for housing and meals. In my case, my internship is located near my family’s home and I can live there. However, other students needed to rent out apartments in the city–a huge cost. In both cases, there is the added worry of transportation. Train and bus tickets, accumulated every day for 14-16 weeks, can easily add up to a sum equal to or greater than what you would spend traditionally on textbooks.

Cornell doesn’t surprise you with these costs; when you apply, Cornell representatives will tell you time and again that you need to have a financial plan for surviving the semester before accepting any internship. However, those representatives can’t warn you of these costs in your Freshman year, when you are looking for work-study employment and haven’t even considered alternative semesters. You have to anticipate that need for yourself and consider more flexible employment which can accommodate for that special semester.

I was lucky to have this job when I was suddenly acquired my current credit internship. I didn’t scramble at the last minute to find employment I could retain alongside my internship off-campus. There were no hurdles or obstacles; I simply continued working with Life on the Hill as if nothing had changed. Now it helps me pay off my train tickets each month, bringing me to and from my internship every day of the week. It doesn’t pay nearly as much as my prior on-campus jobs, but it covers the one expense I can’t reduce by moving back home, making subtle lifestyle changes, or applying for a new financial aid package. For that financial security, I am especially grateful.

So I have some advice to give to younger students currently looking for on-campus jobs. I still maintain the belief that jobs with better pay and some flexibility are the best positions you can acquire on-campus. It pays the bills the fastest and, while it may not be convenient, it won’t interfere with your academics. However, if you are at all thinking about participating in an off-campus program at any time during your undergraduate career, put a heavier weight on job flexibility in your job search. Look for non-site-specific jobs in Cornell’s job postings and around campus. Try them out while you’re still on-campus to make sure you like the work and that the work is manageable. Ask if the position can be held by students participating in credit internships, study-abroad programs, and the like. Taking the time to research these opportunities in advance will save you a lot of trouble when you want to transition into an alternative program later on. Don’t get caught  without a job at a time when you really need it. The alternative is to save up your money so you can go without working for a semester or, even harder, forfeiting the alternative semester opportunity altogether.

Instead, be prepared. Take the well-paying job now but keep an eye out on those other, more flexible positions. Doing so will keep your academic opportunities open. For students with similar financial needs to myself, this diligence is a necessity.

Not a convenience.

Something is Missing…A Welcome Message for the Fall 2014 Semester!

Welcome back, everyone! It’s September of 2014, and the new semester has begun! Classes are under way. The streets of campus are packed with students. Facebook statuses flood in by the hour with updates on everyone’s new schedules and surprising homework loads. Yet, I feel something is missing. Something in all that new school year smell; something underneath the overtones of school pride and sunny days.

Oh, wait…now, I remember.

That’s right! I’m not on campus anymore. I’m in New York City.

Well, technically I’m in Valhalla, New York. Regardless, something’s off here.

Allow me to explain.  I’m currently participating in a special program my college offers each semester to students in their Junior and Senior undergraduate years. It’s an academic credit internship program where I can work for an organization in New York City in exchange for 12 credits. Starting September 15th, I will be interning at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Manhattan office until December 18th. Along the way, I will be getting some hands-on work experience by shadowing one of their investigators. I will be conducting interviews, doing paperwork, and participating in meetings which reflect what investigators typically do day-to-day in that office. It’s a very exciting opportunity for me as it blends together my interest in labor, government, law, and employment discrimination. Plus, did I mention I get 12 credits?

In a future post, I will talk more about how students can get involved in this credit internship program or in similar programs hosted within other colleges. I will also talk more about some of the requirements I have to fulfill in order to get my 12 credits; it’s not just about punching in hours. For now, though, I want to talk more about what changes you–my readers–can expect on this blog as a result of my participation in this program.

Luckily, I’m still able to continue posting alongside the rest of the Life on the Hill team. Instead of my usual fare of campus shenanigans and survival tips, I will be transitioning more into covering topics about transition out of college and about participating in Cornell’s alternative semester programs. In addition, I’ll keep you posted on all the great experiences (and not-so-great experiences) I will have as a student living off-campus…far, far off-campus.

Unfortunately, I won’t have much to comment on regarding classes this semester since I won’t be taking any. Of course, you can always check out the other bloggers on the Life on the Hill team or old posts on this blog to learn more about that subject. Similarly, housing conversations are going to look a lot different now. If you thought having roommates was tough before, then just wait until I tell you all about how living at home effects student life.

All in all, it should be a fun transition to witness on this blog. Between checking out the familiar sites and testing out a new career interest, I suspect I will have plenty of stories to share with you throughout the upcoming months. In the meantime, let me know what you are all up to in the comments below. For those of you just settling in on campus, how is life looking up there? For everyone, what are your plans for the rest of this year?

Meanwhile, I’ll be twiddling my thumbs and waiting for the semester–my semester–to begin. Wish me luck!

 

Video

Spring Fest ’14

Today I went to Spring Fest, a celebration of sustainability month on campus. Various student groups set up booths with information about their sustainability efforts on campus and activities for students to learn about current sustainability issues. There were also animals to pet, windmills to spin, and punch cards you could complete for prizes. All in all, it was a really great event for such a sunny day like today.

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I was also fortunate enough to have both Mikey the Panda and Bugsy the Ladybug with me today, so I took some video footage of them hanging out at Spring Fest to share with my younger sister. For those of you who want to know what you missed, I’ve included that video in this post for you to see what the fuss was all about. Check out the video by clicking here or viewing the embedded video below:

Video

Catching The Base

A lot was going on today on campus. Between Spring Fest, Truss Days, a 161 Block Party, and students protests, I’ve got enough footage to bring you guys at least three more posts (aside from this one, of course) for this week alone!

I thought the best way to start would be with video I made highlighting a performance by four members of Base Productions, a co-ed student dance group at Cornell. They did a good job and were even nice enough to pose with Mikey and Bugsy after their performance. So if you want to see what a little bit of sunshine can bring out of Ithaca, take a look by clicking here or clicking the Youtube link below!

Easter at Cornell

Last Sunday was Easter and, unlike most holidays during the academic year, my roommate and I found the holiday spirit on campus lacking. The only evidence we could find of celebrations on campus were the small congregations of students at Sage Chapel and other religious institutions early Sunday morning. Granted, Easter is a religious holiday and so I can chalk a lot of this phenomenon up to that facet alone; many students may not want to celebrate Easter if they’re not particularly religious, and many others may see going to church as enough of a celebration for this particular holiday.

However, my roommate and I both agreed that the mood on campus still felt off. Back home, the both of us used to enjoy day-long festivities for Easter with our families and friends, including Easter egg hunts, warm meals, and dancing. None of those activities are traditional to the religious celebration of Easter; it was just something our families did because we saw Easter as a celebratory holiday in addition to a religious one. It’s sort of like Christmas. On the one hand, Christmas is a religious holiday and many families go to mass in order to respect that religious tradition. On the other, however, many families also buy presents for children, eat food, and party on that day. That same duality was once attributed to Easter, but my roommate and I just weren’t feeling it this year. What happened?

Feeling the absence of that familiar Easter buzz, I decided that I would stage a surprise Easter egg hunt for roommate. Since Easter egg hunts were a part of both of our childhoods, I thought it would be a fun activity for the both of us and that it would help us get over some of our mutual home-sickness. It turned out to be really fun, and it was also a really easy event to plan. I’m glad we did it, and my only regret was that I didn’t convince more of my friends to get involved and cover more than just the 5th floor of Sheldon Court.

So, if you’re interested in seeing how our Easter egg hunt panned out (or if you just want to grab sneak peeks at what Sheldon Court looks like on the inside), click here to watch a video of our wacky adventure. Originally, I made the video above to share with my sister back home, but I think it could be enjoyable to others as well. Let me know what you think, and tell me what you did for Easter this year!

All Work, No Play

This week, I volunteered to be the light board and sound board operator for The Schwartz Center’s Mini-Locally Grown Dance Festival. It has been an very interesting experience so far. I’ve learned a lot about the mechanics behind lighting and sound design, as well as their execution. I also get some extra credit in my PMA 2600 in exchange for my work, so it’s most certainly a win-win! :D

It is odd, however, to watch the show from off the stage. Just a few semester ago, I was routinely dancing in this show as part of my dance composition classes. As the board operator, I am now seeing a whole new side of the show and, while the experience is definitely enlightening and rewarding, it is reminding me how much I enjoyed performing. Or, at the very least, creating…

If there is one aspect of my life at Cornell right now which I wish I could change, then it would be the amount of time I could devote to creative exploits. From dancing to drawing to writing–I’ve put a lot on the sidelines in order to focus on academics, internship applications, and other seemingly practical endeavors. I used to be able to balance all these activities relatively well in the past, but the consequence was being very burnt out by the end of the semester. Now I feel restless and a lack of work-life balance is rearing its head again.

So what can I do?

*shrug*

A lot of times on this blog, I highlight the clubs and events which regularly convene on campus and encourage others to seek them out as a form of relaxation from academics. However, what can one do here that doesn’t require the same time commitment a club demands but is more routine than a single event?

Well, I can always go back to devoting a few hours each day to those hobbies I love–dancing, writing, filming, etc.. It’s never not going to be a struggle to balance work and play as a Cornell student, but I can tweak the proportion of time I spend on each segment. I’ll have to compromise between the benefits of work and the benefits of play. So, I’ll let you all know what happens. Hopefully I can get the proportion right this time. :)

Choosing Meal Plans

On my Kitchen Disasters post, I got an interesting question from one of my readers and a prospective student:

What’s the best dining plan to get? I’d rather only pay for the cheapest one, but if you do that you don’t get a lot of meals in dining halls per week and so how are you supposed to be able to eat three meals a day? Is it worth it to do your own cooking in addition to whatever meal plan you get? How does everyone manage this? “

I started to answer in a comment…and then it blew up into the post you see below. The short answer, of course, is:

The best meal plan for you will depend on your financial budget, academic schedule, and desire for convenience.”

But that is so incredibly vague and unhelpful that even I knew I couldn’t leave at just that. So, here is a little more about my experience with meal plans, and hopefully that will help you figure out what decisions to make regarding yours. Here we go!

 

As a Freshman, I purchased the cheapest meal plan and still ate three meals a day. I used BRBs and cash to purchase lunches and dinners, while eating breakfasts at dining halls. I found that this plan was most convenient for my schedule; the dining halls’ hours and locations made it hard for me to get to the dining halls in between classes in time for lunch or dinner. However, since most dining halls are located on North campus (where all the Freshman dorms are situated), it was incredibly convenient to grab breakfast there before heading out to central campus for classes. If I had bought the more expensive plan, then I would have wasted money on meals I could not redeem given my schedule. Plus, it was much easier to add BRBs to my meal account or to acquire extra cash when needed than to quickly use up meal swipes before they expired (no rollover benefits here). I was also more than willing to trade up the buffets for quick to-go meals or home-cooked goodness since I already ate small portions.

Given its flexibility, I always recommend taking the cheapest meal plan and purchasing the rest of your weekly meals with cash. You can buy from more places and change up where you eat more easily than otherwise. The downsides would include having to pay more out-of-pocket each time you want to enter a dining hall beyond the number of times included in your plan, since prices for non-meal plan customers are slightly higher. However, I find that students who live on West Campus or who spend a lot of time back in their dorm rooms on North are far more likely to encounter this problem than people living in Collegetown (like me), people who live off-campus, or Freshman who live on North Campus but spend most of their times at classes, work, or the like. For your first semester, you may find that going with a more expensive plan will be helpful and then choose to down-grade to a lower plan once you have a better idea of what you prefer. Talk with your family about what you can afford and be realistic about what lifestyle you expect to maintain on campus. It will help you make a better decision.

If you chose the cheapest meal plan, you can then decide to eat on-campus, eat off-campus, or cook to make up the missing meals. I think cooking is an excellent way to fill that need. It is much cheaper than the other alternatives. It allows for greater customization and it’s a great life skill to acquire early in life. However, it can be time-consuming as well. Again, depending on how heavy your coursework is, it might not be the best idea for you. If you are unsure about how difficult your first semester might be, then you might want to reconsider the alternatives or a bigger meal plan.

A quick tip: find other students who are interested in cooking with you. A group of people can share cooking equipment and help each other cook meals in much quicker time frames. You can also make deals with students on expenses; for example, a friend of yours can be in charge of buying and getting the groceries while you plan and make the meals. This tactic is used a lot by students who live off-campus. The downside is you become dependent on your friends and on kitchen space; so make sure they are all reliable and consistently available!

Eating on-campus or off-campus is really easy and convenient because they are just so many different places to eat. It’s more expensive than cooking for yourself, but I think it is actually less expensive than committing to bloated meal plans you don’t fully use. Mixing it together–eating out for lunch, but cooking 2-5 dinners a week–can balance out the cons of both activities. With websites that let you have food and groceries delivered to your dorm, it really is all too easy to get food outside the dining halls on campus.

Keep in mind these few other tips when looking into meal plans:

  1. Pay attention to how long meal plans last and what rolls over. As I mentioned earlier, you can always choose one meal plan for your Freshman year and then switch to a different plan in the future when you have a better sense of what you need. However, you can only change meal plans at the end of the year and only certain items roll over across semester. For example, if you do not eat all the meals you have available in your plan for the week, then they do not roll over to the next week. You lose them, for good, and you don’t get your money back at the end of the semester for whatever you did not eat. BRBs, however, do roll over from the Fall semester into the Spring semester. So if you have $30 at the end of December in BRBs, then that $30 gets added to the new BRBs you acquire through your plan for the Spring. Take that aspect into consideration; it can be stressful feeling as if you need to get meals in in order to make use of your own money.
  2. Where you live can dictate what and where you eat. As a Freshman, you have to get some meal plan. However, if you live in Risley Hall, where there is a dining hall withing your building, you’re probably going to eat there more often than not. If you live in the Townhouses, you may want to cook more (those houses are pretty far away from campus, comparatively…). Check out a map of North Campus and see how convenient dining halls are for where you will be located. Also, go to dining.cornell.edu and get a sense of the dining halls’ offerings; if you don’t like what they typically serve, then you probably won’t want to eat there a lot. After your Freshman year, your housing can once again play a huge role on what plan you get. If you live in dorms on West Campus, then the dorms themselves will require you to purchase a hefty meal plan. However, living in Collegetown dorms like Sheldon give you the option to completely opt-out of a meal plan and live completely on cash or on BRBs. Don’t forget those requirements later on when this question about meal plan strikes again.
  3. Once you get your class schedule, go to dining.cornell.edu and see when the dining halls are open. Great! You secured some free time between 3PM and 3:30PM for lunch every day! One problem: you can’t get to any dining halls in time to get food, sit down, eat, and get back to classes on time. Plus, the ones you love are closed for cleaning during those times! This scenario happens so many times. Make sure you don’t fall prey to it.

I hope that answered some of your questions! If you have any more, leave them in the comments below and I will be sure to answer them. Food is an important subject for me, so I enjoy talking about it on this blog. If you are another reader who wants to add anything about the use of meal plans or the food scene at Cornell, head down to the comment section and add your two cents to the conversation. I really enjoyed writing up a post as an answer to someone’s question. If anyone else has anything to ask about a different, I might consider making another one of these sort of posts. What do you guys think?