Student Discounts & Tips you should know

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If there’s one New Year’s resolution that will be repeated every year and will sustain you the most in the long-term and the short-term, it’s making a vow to save more money. Budgeting as a student is an endless problems (that is, until your student life ends), but knowing a few tricks and tools can relieve the stress.

Unidays

Unidays partners with various popular brands (in tech, fashion, beauty, fitness) to offer discounts and exclusive deals to students. The most common discount rate is 10-15% off, but deals can be as high as 60%. But don’t be blinded with all the discount numbers, as discounts do not automatically guarantee the best prices, so always shop around before swiping your card.

Cash Back Credit Cards

Thanks to a previous GCC international student blogger, Zerin Firoze, who shared some of her money-saving tips as an international student, I learned about building a good credit score and cash back rewards. If you are an international student or without an SSN, you should research and compare different (secured) credit cards before deciding which suits you best.

Extra note for international students: if you plan on residing in the US for the next several years, it’s important and almost necessary to build good credit history to prove that you are a reliable borrower, which determines whether and how well you can get loans, rent a desirable apartment or buy high-priced items like cars. 

After much research and from personal experiences, Discover it Student Cash Back arguably offers the highest rewards, cashback and perks for students and beginners who are learning to build credit.

  • 5% cashback in rotating categories each quarter: For example, it’s January right now so you’ll be able to earn 5% cashback from groceries stores until end of March. This is in addition to unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is at least 3.0 for up to the next 5 years.
  • Other perks: cashback match at the end of the first year, free FICO score, low fees and forgiveness for your first late payment.

Greyhound Student Advantage for bus rides

If you are car-less (like me) and rely on buses to travel during vacations, a Greyhound Student Advantage Card, which costs $30 per year, offers 10% off tickets and 15% off nationwide shipping. The Student Advantage Discount Card also offer students exclusive discounts from major retailers, travel and entertainment providers partners. You can find their up-to-date lists of partnership with national brands here.

Additionally, Greyhound also offers a road reward program in which you collect points every time you travel. The points add up quick, you receive 1 point per one-way Economy trip (or 3 points per one-way Flexible fare). The higher the points, the higher the rewards (This program is for anyone who signs up for it, not just students.)

Freebird for Uber/Lyft rides 

Again, if you are car-less, you either rely on buses for long trips and Uber/Lyft for short rides. Freebird allows you to earn points/rewards for every ride you take with Uber or Lyft, in addition to generous promo bonuses during special occasions. Highly rated on both Google Play Store and Apple Store (4.7 and 4.8, respectively), Freebird is much more generous in rewards and cashback than Uber built-in systems. Specifically, you can cash back at least $10 (which equates to 5000 points) after 20 rides (250 points/ride).

Cons: you can only connect the app to either Lyft or Uber one at a time, not both. This is a detriment since many people are connected to Uber, but Lyft often offers cheaper rides. Also, Freebird ‘s rewards 250 points per ride regardless of the distance, whether it’s 4 miles or 30 miles. On the bright side, Freebird doubles up the points during special occasions or holidays.

This app is also something I learned from GCC international student blog post by Zerin.

Student Universe for flights

This online travel agency offers cheap flights for students and faculty. To get the best price, it’s advisable to book ticket at least 1.5-2  months in advance. As a trade-off for their super cheap fares, there are many restrictions: tickets are mostly non-refundable, and it will be very costly to change ticket details (such as dates, destination, passenger). So only book on Student Universe if you are dead sure your trip details will not change later on. I had comfortable and affordable experiences using Student Universe so far, but that is because there were not any post-booking or last-minute changes to my trips/flights and I luckily never had to deal with the reputably unfriendly customer service. 

This is an example of ticket fares for a round-trip flight from JFK to LAX booking 1.5 months in advance.

If you’re looking for more money-saving tips, I recommend you to check out Zerin’s previous blog posts (part 1, part 2) on the topic.

I personally have used all of these services at least three times and have had positive experiences with them in my money-saving battle, so rest assured none of those recommendations are monetized ads. Happy 2020 and happy savings!

Featured image by kstudio from Freepik.

Tech tips in the Digital Age

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In this rushed and overloaded digital age, speed and productivity is power. Some of the tech tools below can be the very hacks you need for productivity so you can optimize your time and effort, and save more quality time for more quality tasks. 

Unroll.me

Unroll.me makes it super easy for you to unsubscribe from junk / spam emails without having to delete them manually so often. When you sign up for the service, it will scan through your email to display a list of subscriptions that are filling up your inbox, including subscriptions that you never knew you signed up for. It also helps to remove scam emails whose unsubscribe button doesn’t actually work.

It helps you waste less time skimming and sorting through your crowded mailbox every day.

  • Available as: website
  • Charge: Free

Canva 

“The design tool for non-designers,” this popular web-based graphic design platform allows users to create their own designs & customize graphics, prints, presentation slides from hundreds of professional layouts and templates. If you would like to create an eye-catching poster for an event or an enviable presentation without spending too much time or dabbing into more complicated software such as Adobe, Canva is the place.

For an individual who’s looking to create a quick professional-look design, free version of Canva is plentiful. You can compare their free & upgraded features here. Also, you’ll need to sign up for Google or Facebook account before using.

  • Available as: website & app (ios & android)
  • Charge: Free & paid
Plenty of design templates from Canva

Print Friendly 

As the name suggests, the service helps you remove any navigation, ads, and junk to print a clean-looking article. You can also customize or delete the text and image deemed unnecessary before printing.

Equally important, if you don’t read the New York Times article frequently enough but already exceeded your limit of 10 free articles per month, you can paste the blocked article link into Print Friendly and see its entirety.

  • Available as: website & browser extension (chrome & firefox)
  • Charge: Free
A blocked New York Times article which requires subscription to view
Goes to Print Friendly and paste the article link, the whole article is viewable!

Scanner Pro 

There is a good reason why this app is ranked at #2 on IOS App Store for Business category. Scanner Pro produces top quality scans, offering accurate intelligent character recognition (detects readable text and convert them into machine-encoded text), and doing it all with a smooth interface. It automatically detects borders, reduces distortions, lets you export it as jpg and pdf and share/upload right inside the app.

Since using this app, I feel like those bulky document scanner in the office and library will become museum artifacts in the near decades.

  • Available as: app (ios)(there are many different apps on both ios & google play store for the same purpose of different price range for you to pick from)
  • Free & Paid (one-time payment of $3.99)

Video speed controller

In this overwhelming information age, speed listening is the trick to learning more and quicker from multimedia such as videos and podcasts. If you find it torturous and distracted to sit and listen to an online lecture/video of a slow pace, or if you’re more engaged and focused in high-speed informative listening, this video speed controller is a must. A video speed controller also helps you quickly ‘skim’ through unimportant video sections without skipping/missing its main points. Equally important, this extension allows you to customize hotkey (keyboard shortcuts) to increase/decrease speed and skip forward/backwards without touching the mouse.

  • Available as: Chrome browser extension (Firefox also has similar add-on)
  • Charge: free

Pop-up dictionary/translator

If you’re learning a new language or looking to improve your vocabulary through voracious reading, pop-up dictionary and translator helps to reduce interruptions of looking up a word. There are multiple chrome extensions available for this feature, including but not limited to, Good Word Guide, Dictionarist, Google Dictionary (multiple languages). Personally, I used 3 different pop-up dictionary extensions so that I can be exposed to different ways a word is defined.

  • Available as: Chrome browser extension (Firefox also has similar add-on)
  • Charge: free
Google pop-up translator from Chinese to English
Multiple pop-up definitions from different apps

I have personally used all the tools listed in this blog, and have loved them enough to recommend them to you! I hope you find them useful as well!

Feature image: vector created by Rawpixel from freepik.com

Mental Health on Campus

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By Dennis Austin

College marks an important period in a student’s life. As students begin to transition into adulthood, college is a playground of sorts, a place where experimentation, deep thought, and pondering on what lies ahead are all on the menu. Some students define their college experience through partying, sexual exploration, intense academic rigor, or a combination of sorts. However, for many students they are not in the least concerned with these activities as their energy is more focused on getting themselves out of bed, dealing with an anxiety attack or flirting with the idea of suicide.

Over the past few years mental health has become a hallmark on college campuses across the world. More attention and resources have now been dedicated in assisting students who struggle with their internal demons, which for many, is a case of life and death. Here at Genesee Community College, there is a noticeable sense of despair which afflicts much of the student body. I myself have seen people in my own social circle openly admit to cutting themselves, failed suicide attempts, amongst many other tragic stories. One student in particular had cut themselves multiple times in their abdomen, an event which required an overnight hospital stay.

Earlier this month at the behest of GCC President James Sunser, me and College Village Resident Assistant Randy Bumbury, visited Monroe Community College and advocated for more resources on campus to deal with this crisis. In a room filled with State legislators across various regions we plead our case as to why this issue requires urgent action. Jeanie Burdick is a fine counselor here at GCC and has performed her job well, but she is only one individual. Given that our estimated student population is well over 1,000 (more if our campus centers and distance learning students are calculated), there is simply not enough resources available to address the needs of students.

To be blunt, we need money. Monetary backing would ensure we could afford more than one full-time, qualified counselor as well as expanding our services at the Counseling Center. Thus, GCC could provide more options for students to better manage their health outside of what currently exists, such as Therapy Assist Online, a useful tool students can use, but doesn’t completely solve the problem. The issue we have is not a lack of motivation or skill. That much among faculty is present. We just don’t have the “cache” if you will, to go beyond our constraints and truly make a difference.

Dennis Austin is a graduating sophomore, majoring in Liberal Arts & Sciences. He is graduating this semester and will be attending the University of Illinois in January.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 911. If you need to make an appointment with our Counseling Center, please contact Jeanie Burdick at jlburdick@genesee.edu or call (585)-343-0055 ext. 6219. The Counseling Center is open weekdays, Monday-Friday, from 9 AM to 4:30 PM.

How I saved hundreds of dollars in the cost of living in the US as an International student.

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For the last one year, I did not pay a dime for heat, electric, garbage pick-up, laundry and gas without any roommates. I am successfully graduating from GCC this fall and I managed to do it by saving hundreds of dollars in the cost of living. Most Americans and International students alike, stare at me in disbelief when I tell them that I pay nothing for utilities and I managed to do so without a roommate. Do I sound too good to be true? I certainly do. Let me show you how I made frugal living a reality in this outrageously exorbitant economy. According to a news report by the national low-income housing coalition, a full-time minimum wage job won’t get you a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in America. A lot of one bedroom apartments in Batavia range between $500-650 plus you will have to pay for heat, electric, Internet, phone bill and fuel separately.

I have spent the first one year at GCC building friendships. I have spoken with everyone and I got to know everyone around me. I am a keen observer of people around me and I am a pretty decent judge of character. It did not take me long to figure out people who would be genuinely helpful to me. I like helping people as well and I am usually extra kind and respectful to elderly folks. I live away from my parents and whenever I come across an elderly person I suddenly miss my parents. South Asian children like me usually live with their parents until their parents pass away. South Asian culture also emphasizes a lot on family values. Very quickly, I got to know a lot of elderly folks with empty houses in Batavia and Oakfield because their children moved out. Many of these elderly, soon to be retired folks were impressed by me and offered me to live in the basement of their large, empty houses to pay off their mortgage. It did not take me long to figure out that it is way cheaper for me to lease one bedroom and bathroom space in a large empty house, instead of, leasing a whole apartment. I pay only $500 for rent without any roommates. Electric, heat, laundry, garbage pick-up and everything else is included with it. I do not deal with electric or fuel companies at all.

I know a lot of International students who pay $300-400 for off-campus housing but they are forced to put up with roommates and additionally need to pay for heat, electric and other necessities separately. On-campus housing is extremely expensive and if you are like me who is not at all interested in dealing with roommates, residential assistants then, yes, off-campus housing is for you. Some International students almost get free on-campus housing if they choose to be a residential assistant on campus. However, all students do not get the job of being a residential assistant. International students also do not get financial aid from the US government to live on-campus. Personally, the job of being a residential assistant and dealing with on-campus drama never appealed to me. Never mind, how much you dangle the offer of a free on-campus housing to me. I simply refuse to have roommates. Hence, I never considered applying for a residential assistant job.

Leasing a basement or a separate unit in a large, empty house with no children is the best way to save money on the cost of living, instead of, renting a separate house or one bedroom apartment all by yourself and being responsible for your own heat and electric. I live in a basement of a large house with my own kitchen, bathroom, study room, and bedroom. I have a nice backyard and parking space as well. I almost never see my landlord who lives upstairs. I have my own separate entrance. There is no way I would be charged a separate electric or heat bill as there is usually only one meter per house. However, be respectful. Try to conserve energy and heat. Do not abuse anybody’s generosity and trust. I keep all my lights off when I do not need it and I use as little water as possible. Do not tamper or raise the thermostat. You certainly do not want to upset a landlord who is willing to pay for your heat, electric, garbage pick-up, and laundry.

Thus, the moral of the story is to be nice to people in general. Do not pretend to be nice to people just because you have an ulterior motive. People will quickly realize your motive and turn away from you. If you want to successfully live in a place for a year or two like me, then focus on building a good relationship with your landlord. Good behavior will take you a long way in life. Do a background check and make sure you really know the person you are living with. You will definitely come across good-hearted people who will offer you almost free-housing or housing at a lower cost. I am graduating this fall from GCC and I am moving to another state. I will be a house-aide at an elderly person’s house and I will be paying nothing for rent, electric, heat, garbage- pick up and other expenses. Now, I have decreased my cost of living from $500 to zero dollar. I repeat again, “Be nice to elderly people!”

Part-2 How International Students can save money while being at GCC

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Earn money and/or gift cards just by watching videos online and by taking quick surveys:

I wasted thousands of dollars during my Freshman year at college because I knew nothing about coupons or how to rack up points and free gift cards. Sign up for MyPoints accounts. You can earn points just by completing daily activities which includes taking a survey, voting on a poll, watching videos, checking out deals, printing coupons etc. Whenever, I need to shop or sign up for a subscription like Hulu, Sephora and others I usually do it through MyPoints accounts. I always keep MyPoints tab open in my browser and I rack up points all day. It is very easy to rack up thousands of points very quickly by taking advantage of deals from popular stores like Amazon, Kohl’s where you would shop for basic necessities anyway. Other great legitimate sites for taking surveys are I-psos, Inbox Dollars, Survey Junkie, YouGov and I-Polls. College textbooks are very expensive in the USA. Last semester I brought books worth $1000 for free using Amazon gift card balance. You can easily knock off a thousand dollar  bill by using these sites religiously every day. Next time, whenever you are waiting for an appointment try taking a survey or two.

Earn Amazon gift cards just by walking:

Just think how many flights of stairs do you use every day? How many miles do you walk every day when you are rushing from one classroom to another in huge college campuses?  GCC has a pretty huge campus with a college dorm. I keep Steps Cash apps always activated on my I-Phone and I rack up points for Amazon gift cards just by walking to and from one class to another and from one campus building to another building. This is a great app to make sure you exercise by walking every day and you also earn Amazon gifts just by walking. Stay fit and happy walking!

Download FreeBird to get discount Uber rides and to earn cashbacks:

You will probably have to use a lot of Uber rides if you are an International student without a car. Uber rides are very expensive. FreeBird  gives discounts and cashback for Uber rides and restaurants.

Get a secured credit card:

You better start building up your credit history if you are going to live in the USA for the next five or more years to earn a US degree. Credit score is used to analyze everything in the US. You cannot even rent your desired apartment unless you have a good credit score. I knew nothing about credit history when I came to the US.  I wasted one and a half year without building my credit history even though I was paying all my bills on time. I remember asking a bank employee how to get a credit card. The bank employee smirked at me and told me that I cannot get a credit card because I am not a US citizen. The bank employee did not even bother to suggest me to apply for a secured credit card. You do not have to be a US citizen to apply for a secured credit card. You only need a social security number or tax identification number (TIN). So, apply for a secured credit card as soon as you land in the US. Start looking for on-campus jobs as well as soon as you start your semester. It takes several months to get a social security number. You cannot work on campus without a social security number. It is extremely difficult to apply for online credit/debit card with higher cashback value without a social security number.

When I first came to the USA I did not have access to these survival tips. I hope these tips will help you to make the most of your time and money in the US.

 

 

 

 

 

Part-1 How International Students can save money while being at GCC by Zerin Firoze

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I was born and raised in a developing country, Bangladesh, and it was my dream from a very young age to study in the US. A lot of youths like me from developing countries also aspire to study in the US. It is extra challenging for poor students from developing countries to be able to afford to study in the US. Students from developing countries cannot remit money to a foreign country. The US government is also notorious for imposing sanctions in certain countries. Exchange rates plus foreign transaction fees by banks also add up. For example, 1 US dollar is 84 takas in my country Bangladesh. There is no legal way to remit money and corrupt middlemen charge high fees. I am a student from a developing country and here are the following things I have learned after coming in the US. I hope these tips will help you to save both time and money.

Choosing the right college

I would encourage all students to start at a community college first. You can literally save thousands of dollars and still get the same degree and classes at a cheaper price. Many community colleges like GCC do not even charge admission fees. It is completely free to apply for admission. You just need to apply online. So, apply to as many colleges as you want.

Learn to drive in your home country

Many cheaper colleges in the US are located in rural areas with little to no public transportation. You can save a lot of money by choosing a rural location. The cost of living in large cities is extremely expensive. It is not possible for students to pay out of state tuition fees and still afford thousands of dollars per month for rent, food, and other basic necessities. According to American Infrastructure Report Card, the US infrastructure is crumbling and has a rating of D+. Driving schools in America are very expensive. Private one-hour driving lessons are also very expensive and are not available in all rural US counties. So, try to get some driving time before coming to the US. Ask your family members or relatives in your home country to teach you driving for free.

Try to learn about car maintenance and repair before you come to the US. Then, attend a defensive driving course and Driver’s Education course in the US to get your license. You will be very busy being a full-time student once you come to the US. So, try to learn basic life skills while waiting for your acceptance letter from US colleges or for your visa interview.

Learn how to cook and preserve food before coming in the US

I lost thousands of dollars in wasted food. I had no idea how to preserve food. I had no experience in estimating the shelf life of certain food items. I cried when I had to throw away tons of fruits, frozen meat, and cartons of milk. I have been in the US for two and a half years now and I still did not find the time to read all the articles or watch all the videos that I always wanted to watch about food preservation. You can save a lot of money by learning to preserve food. Cooking skills are also important. Next time, hit the grocery store with your mom and learn about basic spices and ingredients if you are not a cooking pro.

Learn how to use coupons and rebate apps

I remember how overwhelmed I was when I first landed at JFK airport and very quickly I became busy with campus life. I had no time to read blogs about saving money in the US as a full-time student. I had no leisure reading time outside college textbooks. Hence, do yourself a favor. Read blogs and website articles about saving money in the US while you are waiting for a decision from US colleges or for your visa interview.

Coupons and rebate apps are not used in my country at all. I became familiar with coupons and rebate apps after coming in the US. It took me two years to learn to use coupons and rebate apps. Now, I am the ultimate coupon queen. I received $54 cashback from Ebates and $55 from Ibotta just for buying groceries and other necessary items. Groupon is also a great website to save money. Learn to use coupons and rebate apps before you even come in the US. Read articles about rebate apps and coupons on the Internet.

I will share more secrets and life hack in part-2 of the same article next week!

 

 

 

 

Come one, come all! Housing Survey!

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housing batavia

Hey y’all! It’s time to participate in something. Let your voice be heard in this online survey. Basically, it’s a survey given by Genesee County and they’re trying to decide what type of housing and additions to add to Batavia!

If you or someone you know would like to participate in helping the town of Batavia develop and grow, please fill out this short 11 answer questionnaire given in the link below. It has to be in by the 17th of November.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XZBVSXP

Thanks and have a great day!