5 Money-Saving Hacks for Back-to-School Season

Hannah Doyle is an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway. Back in the United States, Hannah is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle.

It’s no secret that university is expensive, but back-to-school season doesn’t have to break the bank. These 5 money-saving hacks will help you get the most bang for your buck this school year.

1. Shop around for your textbooks

University textbooks can be outrageously expensive. That said, it is possible to save money if you shop smart. Here’s what I personally recommend:

  • Avoid the university bookstore – ordering online is cheaper. Amazon is my favorite, but Chegg and Barnes & Nobel are popular too.
  • Buy used instead of new – it’ll save you half the price.
  • Rent instead of buy – if you won’t need the textbook for future reference, there’s no need to own it.
save money on textbooks by avoiding the bookstore

2. Use your student discounts

Your student ID card will help you recoup a little cash. Hundreds of establishments – from food to fashion to news and entertainment – offer discounts for college students. If you want to purchase a new laptop or upgrade your wardrobe before school starts, do some Googling for discounts before you finalize the transaction.

save money with student discounts

3. Attend on-campus events

There are always events and activities happening on-campus. From movie nights to DIY tutorials to concerts to cultural festivals, you have the option of staying on-campus at no additional cost as opposed to going out on the town. Many student organizations also host their own events (and provide free food!) or go on retreats, which is a great way to have fun and make new friends with similar interests.

Why pay when you can participate for free, get a free t-shirt and free food?

campus involvement retreat

4. Know the campus amenities

Universities offer many amenities that are included in your tuition. For example, at the University of Washington, a gym membership, quarterly doctor’s office visit, public transportation pass, and more are covered by my tuition and fees. Avoid paying extra costs off-campus when you already have convenient access on-campus.

university gym membership

5. Apply for scholarships

Applying to scholarships can seem like a time-consuming process, but the rewards are worth the effort. Even if you are an international student, there are U.S.-based scholarships available to you. Scholarship application eligibility requirements can be very niche (based on your major, cultural heritage, hobbies, and more), increasing your likelihood of being selected. Check with your university’s Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships, and Awards to see your options.

applying for college scholarships

Best of luck with the new school year!

How to Succeed in University: 5 Tips for Your First Year

Hannah Doyle is an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway. Back in the United States, Hannah is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Your first year attending a U.S. university may seem daunting, but have no fear – here are 5 tips to put you on the track to success!

Tip 1. Get involved on campus

School work is obviously important, but so much learning takes place outside of the classroom. Joining on-campus student groups (my university has over 900!) is a great way to explore your interests and make new friends.

There are clubs for everything – whether it’s hiking, skiing, debating, eating ice cream, watching movies, or appreciating Beyoncé. I guarantee there is something out there for you!

College basketball stadium
Be sure to embrace the school spirit and check out sporting events too!

Tip 2. Get off campus

This probably sounds contradictory to the first tip, but hear me out. When you are living and studying on-campus 24/7, it can be easy to forget that life exists off-campus.

Explore the area surrounding your university – after all, it’s your home for the next few years! Immerse yourself in the local culture and take a break from campus. Try new foods, attend community events, explore the neighborhoods, and make the most of your time in the United States.

Seattle, Washington, home of the University of Washington
Whether your university is in a big city or small town, adventures are everywhere

Tip 3. Talk to your professors

Don’t be afraid of your professors! Professors are people too, and they appreciate it when students take a genuine interest in course content. Make an effort to stop by office hours and talk about the course, ask about their research, or seek advice about opportunities in their field.

Students meeting with university professor
Even if you feel nervous, just go to office hours – you won’t regret it!

Tip 4. Address small issues before they become big issues

No matter the problem, there are resources available on campus to help you. Not understanding course material? Form a study group, go to the tutoring center, or speak with your professor. Having issues with your roommate? Speak with your roommate directly or contact your residential advisor. Struggling? Seek out advising or counseling services.

Your university wants to see you succeed (that’s why there are so many resources!), so never be embarrassed to get assistance.

Don’t end up like this guy – fix problems early!

Tip 5. Prioritize and plan

College is a constant cycle of juggling your academic life, social life, and personal life. From homework assignments to extracurricular activities to maintaining friendships to sleeping, there’s a lot to balance.

I highly suggest keeping a planner to track deadlines and priorities. Having all of your commitments and obligations organized in one place is helpful for reducing stress and staying on-track!

Two college essentials: planners and notebooks
Planners and notebooks are college necessities

But most importantly: keep an open mind. Take the opportunity to immerse yourself in American culture and actively engage in the community. Push yourself to try new things and expand your worldview – I promise it will be rewarding!

Good luck with your first year of college!

5 Tips for Finding Your Dream University

Hannah Doyle is an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway. Back in the United States, Hannah is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle.

With over 4,000 institutions, deciding which U.S. university to attend is difficult in general. If you are an international student, the decision can seem even more challenging if you are unable to visit campuses in-person. Have no fear though – here are 5 tips to help you find your dream school!

1. Think beyond California and New York

Don’t get me wrong – California and New York are great! That said, there are 48 other unique states with impressive universities. Take a leap of faith and go somewhere wildly different from Norway. Be adventurous – experience Southern culture in Louisiana or live in the deserts of Arizona.

Image of Seattle, Washington, home of the University of Washington.
I chose Seattle, the polar opposite of my hometown.

2. Know your needs

Consider the specifics of what you want in a university. Public or private? Big city or small town? Religious affiliation? Majors? Reputation? Research opportunities? Costs? Don’t worry about finding a 100% match, but be informed.

Image of Suzzalo Reading Room at the University of Washington in Seattle.
A school with a pretty library was a must for me.

3. Examine the extracurriculars

So much learning takes place outside the classroom. U.S. universities offer huge amounts of clubs, societies, and activities outside of class – my university has over 900 student organizations! Read through the university’s list of extracurriculars and see how they align with your interests and hobbies.

Image of University of Washington's Norwegian Club marching in the Norwegian Constitution Day Parade in Seattle.
You can even join a Norwegian club! Photo by Joe Mabel.

4. Keep your options open

Sort your universities into three categories based upon their acceptance rate and your qualifications: reach (more difficult to get admitted), target (on par with your qualifications), and safety (easier to get admitted). If possible, apply to several schools across the three categories to give yourself more options.

Image of U.S. university logos
So many schools!

5. Check out the meme page 

Okay, I know it sounds weird, but hear me out. If you can’t visit the college in-person, checking out its meme groups (like UW Teens for Boundless Memes) on Facebook can offer a little insight into the student life vibe. They are purely student-run and definitely not endorsed by the university, so don’t make the memes your deciding factor.

Perfect entertainment for procrastinating your studies

But most importantly – wherever you end up – keep an open mind. Take the opportunity to immerse yourself in American culture and actively engage in the campus community. No matter which university you attend, it will be a rewarding experience!