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Archive for 'ace your academics'

How to Be a Student of Life and for Life

5. Read a lot and often.

– Books YOU’RE interested in should be a supplement to the books you’re told to read.

– Browse the bookstore and library at least twice a month. Make it a habit.

– Go to your university bookstore’s textbook section and read / skim / browse through the books required in classes you want to take but can’t fit into your schedule. “Take” the class on your own.

4. Be passionate about your classes.

– Take classes you’re actually interested in. (That usually starts with choosing a major you like—not one your parents chose for you or one that sounds impressive.)

– Take classes you’re curious about. Be adventurous and expose yourself to new fields.

– Visit your professors during their office hours. Be honest with them. You don’t need to bring in an organized conversation agenda for them to see your passion for the class and academic field. You can talk to them about things you don’t understand, about contrasting ideas, and about your confusion. Wanting to talk about something and explore it deeper demonstrates as much passion as knowing something already.

– Read the books your professors recommend but don’t require. Even better, read the books your professors wrote! Cite any of these in your papers. It’s not ass-kissing. It’s simply learning more from the person you’ve been listening to all semester.

3. Learn from people.

– Remember when you were choosing colleges and you told yourself you wanted to be in a place surrounded by other smart students? You’re here now. Take advantage of your environment. Talk to your friends about academics, the news, the world, philosophy, and life. You’d be surprised by the depth of such conversations and how much you can learn in just a 45-minute lunch.

– Listen to and think about real conversations you have with friends or overhear from strangers. Not all learning is academic. There is lots to be gained from everyday informal conversations (even gossip!) about relationships, friendships, and work. These are parts of life too!

– In addition to visiting your own professors, you can even email professors you never had and ask if you can talk to them during their office hours (if they have time when none of their actual students are there). This is particularly useful if you need a bit of guidance in a field you enjoy and study on your own but don’t have the time or prerequisites to take courses in.

– Listen to those special people who love you unconditionally and want the best for you: your parents!

2. Seek out other ways of learning

– Attend special lectures organized by your university, other universities, or your town. Use your university’s calendar webpage to browse such events. (BU’s:

– Visit museums. Go on guided city tours. Watch films.

– Every day, jot down the things you encountered that you were curious about. Then JFGI. (Just f’in Google it!)

1. Learn from experience and life.

– As much as you’ll learn from books and people, at the end of your life, would you rather have read about and heard about life or experienced it? Dare to make your own mistakes. Dare to experiment. Skip your business class and go out there and teach yourself what works and what doesn’t work in serving people. Close your psychology book and go out there and find out for yourself how humans behave. Forget perfecting your Writing101 assignment and practice your own craft by writing in a journal, writing letters to friends, and starting your own blog. You’ll learn from it all. What is failure anyway?

– Remember that whether it’s academics or life in general, you are the only person who can decide which “classrooms” you want to enter, you are the only person who can decide what experiences will count as lessons, and you are the only person who can decide how well you do. You are your own best teacher and you alone are fully in charge of your own learning.

– Remember that you can learn anything you want. It won’t show up on your transcript or resume, but it will show up in your life. You won’t be graded on it, but you will gain from it. That’s what real education is about and that’s what real life is about.

Be a student of life and for life.

– by Nathan Chow
Boston University Class of 2009

A Vision of Students Today

How to Pick Classes and Professors

Considerations when choosing a course:

– Are the classes you picked interesting and rewarding? Do the course descriptions turn you on? (For BU’s online catalog:

– Or did you pick them because they have easy professors? Or convenient timeslots? Or both, you lazy sloth? (Is your idea of education really sleeping in until 12 for an easy class that doesn’t take attendance—which means you can skip and actually sleep until 3? I see what you did there.)

– Do the classes have enjoyable readings and lecture topics? Are they even relevant to the course title? (Sometimes I’m not sure what my prof was smoking.) You can usually find info about this through old syllabi (either from a friend or from the online syllabi archive). For BU’s:

– Are you still “undecided” about your major but taking many classes in one department next semester? Are you absolutely positive you’ll be heading in that direction in the future, that your gamble is worth it, and that next semester won’t be as boring as watching a knitting race?

– Do you have AP credits for some courses? If so, when you register for some lower-level related classes, it could cancel your AP credits in a related subject. Check your course guide or ask your advisor to be sure.

– Can you fit a fun and social physical education class into your schedule? Do it. It’s only one or two more hours of class per week and it’s definitely worth it—especially if you meet someone hot. (What’s hotter than a hot person getting physical in class? C’mon now.)

(For BU: Your tuition comes with up to 18 credits per semester. Your usual 4-class courseload will add up to 16, which means you can take up to 4 more half-credit classes or 2 more 1-credit classes. Just a small sample of BU’s offerings: soccer, golf, skating, ballroom dance, hip hop, tap, ballet, swimming, scuba diving, sailing, tai chi, yoga, weight lifting, aerobics, kickboxing, CPR… you get the point. For a full list: To register for one, enter PDP into the course finder. But they don’t have curling. Sorry, Canada.)

– Can you fit a regular 2-credit academic class into your schedule? They’re usually easy on you, and the relatively light work to get an A or A- can boost your GPA. No, they’re not slacker courses though. You’ll still need to work a little. (For BU: Search CFA and SED. They always offer lots of cool 2-credit classes.)

– Are you allowed to overload and take an extra 4-credit class? Freshmen may not be allowed to. Also check if you can take 20 credits without paying more. Sometimes you need a certain GPA to overload for free before senior year.

– How many electives can you take before you graduate? Do you have time to take something completely random that you’ve always been curious about? Such as why bonobo chimps are constantly having sex? (I learned that in Cultural Anthropology. It was the defining moment in my college years.)

– Have you talked to your advisor about everything you weren’t sure of? Do you even know who your advisor is?

Considerations when choosing professors:

– First and most importantly: are they hot? Do they have lots of chili peppers on (For BU: Remember, we have the second hottest prof in the country. Obviously she teaches French. Brag to all your hometown friends. No, I’m really not kidding. Look her up on the RateMyProfessors homepage.)

– Second, do they have good academic ratings on The general gist is USUALLY dependable enough, but don’t trust individual ratings unless they seem fair and objective. Is there positive word-of-mouth about the prof too? Have your friends taken him? Can you use a Facebook Courses application to find the prof’s current students and send a message to them to ask about specifics? Previous students will be more helpful than you’d think. And no, this is not creepy or awkward unless you think it is.

– Have you searched for your prof’s description on her department website (something like Does she share your academic and research interests? Did she attend a grad school you want to attend?—she may be a good source of networking. Is her thesis interesting to you? (Knowing all this will also earn you tons of brownie points next semester.)

– Would she write a killer recommendation for you? Does she seem uber cool and fascinating? And again, is your professor hot?

– Is he famous? Has he won numerous awards? Does he publish an article every other day and even in his sleep? Is he the world’s leading expert on something other than cheese? Will you be able to brag that you took a class with him? Just take him.

(Just a disclaimer: All my favorite professors were “no-names” who had the time to keep exchanging emails and even Facebook wall posts with me even years after class ended. While I learned lots in “famous” professor classes and was inspired to read a LOT of the professor’s work, I was never mentored and given individual attention in these classes the way I was in classes taught by Professor Nobodys. Keep a nice balance between these two types of professors.)

Some of BU’s most famous: Elie Wiesel (duh), Ray Carney (film scholar; leading expert on John Cassavetes and independent cinema; AMAZINGLY inspirational—I would recommend him!), Leslie Epstein (director of creative writing; his son Theo is the youngest general manager in MLB (Red Sox); his father and uncle wrote the Casablanca screenplay!), Robert Pinsky (former U.S. Poet Laureate), Osamu Shimomura (2008 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry)

– Has she won a teaching award at your university? She may not be famous, but she might be a more competent teacher than the famous ones. She can pinpoint your mistakes, explain concepts effectively, and inspire you. (For BU’s award-winning professors: and

– Have you googled him? (Who else thinks Google and Starbucks should merge and take over the world?)

– Have you searched for her books on Have you read her articles, publications, and previous work? Would you love to spend a whole semester talking to her about her work?

– Have you searched for his resume on

– Last (and this is VERY important for changing bad grades): does your professor like cookies, brownies, and other assorted baked goods? Oh, and can you bake?

Very Random Things For Boston University Course Registration:

– When you register, type in your registration code ahead of time. Don’t wait until your registration time to do that.

– Add all the classes you want to your planner. Even add all your backups. I’ve seen people add only 4 classes. Your planner can fit up to 30.

– When it’s time to register, click “Register for Classes.” Then click “Go” next to “search by planner.” You’ll register a lot faster than all the n00bs who manually type in all their course numbers individually.

– Just worry about registering for all the classes that are filling up real fast. Scramble to take those. Then, a minute later, register for the rest.

Options for Getting into the Full Class You Really Want Without Whining About It:

– Stalk your online registration site (for BU: StudentLink) twice a day every day during winter or summer break. I can almost guarantee someone will drop the class. This has worked EVERY semester for me.

– If the class has a lecture and a discussion, hold onto a discussion section if one is open. They’re usually 0 credits. Now you just need to wait for the lecture to open up. (Some schools have policies against this.)

– Email the professor. Introduce yourself and demonstrate your interest in the class and the prof will probably agree to sign you in. Or even visit the prof’s office hours. Or search for his current class times and find him right after a class.

– If the new semester starts and you still aren’t registered, go to the class as if you’re part of it. Absent students on the first day are usually dropped. You’ll be able to take their spot. (Which also means if you’ll be absent on the first day of class for a course you want to keep, make sure the absence is legit and that your prof knows about it! Otherwise someone could steal your precious class and hot professor! You DID choose classes based on hotness, right?)

– Have an upperclassman or someone with a better registration time hold a spot for you before the class gets full. Have him drop it at a coordinated awkward hour a few days after you register. (Some schools have policies against this.)

– Ask what your advisor can do about it.

– Settle on finding a different professor—one who might be less hot. It’s okay. Personality counts too.

– by Nathan Chow
Boston University Class of 2009

The Hidden Lessons of College

College hides its real lessons. They dress themselves up as lectures, tests, papers, oral presentations, projects, social interactions, new settings, new people, roommates, and extracurriculars. While you may be taught chemical formulas, assigned a paper about Freud, given a group project about economics, challenged by very different roommates, living far from home, or given the responsibility of leading a club, what you’re really learning is how to learn, think, write, listen, talk, manage time, manage people, care about and shape the world-at-large, be an active citizen, and be independent—all crucial skills relevant to every workplace.

Your major plays a small role in your college experience and an even smaller role in the years following graduation. As long as your university provides a haven that allows you to learn from your mistakes and develop your strengths and weaknesses—all in a nurturing environment—then you’re getting a valuable education.

Remember that in college, everyone is rooting for you. Take advantage of it before you head off into the “real world.” Learn everything you’ve always wanted to learn, grow in all the ways you’ve ever wanted to grow, and change in all the ways you’ve ever wanted to change.

Dare to be vulnerable, wrong, adventurous, curious.

Have faith in being confident, right, independent, influential, social.

And have pride in being yourself and developing your full potential.

– by Nathan Chow
Boston University Class of 2009

How to Save Money on Books (What Your Campus Bookstore Doesn’t Want You to Know)

(NOTE: Even though the first version of this popular post was written in 2008, I edit it every now and then to reflect new strategies, technologies, and websites. Last edit: January 2015.)

Some of you sell your souls to your campus bookstore. And some of you save a *little bit* of money by using Amazon. But here are tips and tricks for saving A LOT of money for your books this semester.

My personal record for biggest savings was a $180 pair of textbooks at the bookstore for $18 total online—that’s including shipping. There were many other times I got my books for free from community resources!

I’ll explain how I did it. First, I’ll explain how to find the cheapest books to buy online. After this long section, I’ll give you ideas on how to get your books for free or really cheap from various resources. Deal?

CONDENSED Instructions for How to Find the Cheapest Books Online
Step 1. Get the ISBN for the book you need. It’s on the back cover.
Step 2. Search for the best prices on It looks through all the dozens of online merchants and compares prices for you. It even compares rental prices, such as those at, which is sometimes but not always the cheapest.
Step 3. Use to search for coupon codes before settling on what appears to be the cheapest option. You would enter,, or whatever.
Step 4. Order the book and sit back in happiness, knowing how much you saved.

EXTENDED Instructions for How to Find the Cheapest Books Online (with important details)

Step 1. Get your list of required books.

(For BU: Go to, click on “Current Schedule” under Academics, log in, and click “Buy Books” on the left. Click OK or whatever a bunch of times. Not all your courses might have the books up yet though. Some professors never even put them online.)

Step 2. Get the ISBN of each book you need to buy. (The ISBN is the unique International Standard Book Number on the back of a book or on its inside copyright page. It guarantees you’ll have the same exact edition and printing as the book your professor intends for you to buy.)

Even if you find a book with the same title and author, it doesn’t necessarily mean you found the right one! Only the ISBN guarantees you’ve found the right edition and printing. This is especially true for classic paperbacks that have dozens of different printings in the world, such as something like Huckleberry Finn or Leviathan.

How do you get the ISBN?

– Your list of required books might list all the ISBNs. In that case, skip to step 3. (BU’s doesn’t.)

– If this is over the summer or winter break and you want to buy your books NOW so they’ll ship to you before the first day of class:

  • Check the old semesters on your college course archive to see if the syllabus and required books are listed (for BU: Make sure the old semester’s books match this semester’s. If your prof didn’t list your required books yet but you found the required ones from last semester’s syllabus, I wouldn’t jump the gun and assume the prof is using the same books this semester.
  • If the old syllabus doesn’t list the ISBNs, email the professor to ask for the ISBNs. It’s a good excuse to introduce yourself too!
  • If all the above steps failed, use Amazon’s product details. If your book list says you need “The Prophet, by Gibran; Knopf, 73,” it means you need The Prophet by Gibran, published by Knopf in 1973. (The list might also say Knopf, 2 ed, which would mean the 2nd edition published by Knopf.) So type in “prophet gibran” on Click on each search result and for each, scroll down to the “Product Details.” Find the one published by Knopf in 1973. When you find the right one, copy the “ISBN-10” or “ISBN-13” number listed. Either is fine.

– If you’re already on campus:

  • Go to your college bookstore. Go to your course’s bookshelf. Copy down the ISBN number from the back of each required book.
  • Or if you received your class syllabus already and it lists ISBN numbers, you don’t need to go to your bookstore (unless you want to compare prices).

Step 3. Once you have the ISBN for a book, use to find the cheapest option online (it searches through,, and many more merchants to conveniently list the best deals for you).  You’ll notice that and are not always the cheapest, even if thousands of students swear by them!

Find a copy that’s the right balance between price and condition for you. For some classes, you might not care if you buy a super cheap but super beat-up book with a dozen different highlighting colors, whereas for other classes, you might want to spend some extra money to buy new or like new books so you can depend on your own highlighting and keep the book for years.

Don’t be afraid of the super duper cheap international student editions! Other than being paperback and often having black and white photos, they’re the exact same thing as the regular editions. Even their page numbers will match. (Don’t quote me on that, but at least it’s been true for all the ones I’ve ever bought.)

Step 4. Also check for coupon codes before settling on what appears to be the cheapest merchant. (You would enter,,, or whatever. rarely has coupons though.) You’ll probably find coupons only about 10% of the time, but you can still test your luck with this step.

Step 5. After you buy it online with standard shipping, you’ll have to wait anywhere between 5-14 days before you receive it. In the meantime, maybe buy it from the campus bookstore and return it for a full refund by the returns deadline later. Or hang out at the bookstore and read what you need to there. Or pay for expedited shipping with all the money you saved!

P.S. Choose reliable sellers! If you’re buying used books through merchants on Amazon or or whatever else, be a little careful. For books that I think I’ll keep after the course is over, I like being more careful in choosing a used copy. I like copies that have limited highlighting. And I like sellers with a good balance between high ratings and decent number of products sold. For example, I’d much rather trust a seller who has made 100 transactions and has a 4-star rating out of 5 than a seller who has made 3 transactions and has a 5-star rating. Use your own judgment to decide which seller and which book copy you want. I’m not always pleased with the book condition when I choose a copy that is only in “acceptable” condition, but life goes on. I still saved money. And it’s not like I have to lick my book or anything. If it’s that icky, I probably just won’t ever put it on my pillow.

~ ~ ~

Additional Wonderfully Delicious Methods for Saving Money on Books:

– Buy the book on Facebook marketplace or through your friends.

– Buy the book through your university’s textbook selling and buying Facebook page or the general page for your university. (BU has several. Here is one:

– If the book is a classic, you can read it online for free at . It’s an archive of all the books that are old enough to be in the public domain. All the oldies by Shakespeare and Plato are on there, as well as books by more “recent” authors, such as Twain and Oscar Wilde. This is possible because after a certain number of decades, any writing is in the public domain. Check to see if your books are there. (Reading it online has an extra advantage: you can easily copy and paste important passages and condense the book down to what you really need to reread for an exam or what you want saved to put in a paper.)

Google it. Remember that “Prophet” book I used as an example for obtaining ISBNs? For some reason it’s not on Gutenberg, but a simple Google search for “prophet gibran” finds dozens of copies of it online for free. It’s a short read and an amazing “life advice” book. (Shameless plug: If you like personal development, motivation, and inspirational stuff, please check out my other blog too!:

Buy an electronic copy of it or a Kindle copy of it. Amazon sometimes offers them and they’re usually cheaper. Or buy it on Google Play. Or download it (legally, of course…).

If it’s a little paperback, buy it from the campus bookstore (*shudder*). Sometimes it’s actually the cheapest option because you don’t need to pay for shipping. So once you get hooked on buying cheap books online, don’t forget this traditional way. And hey, if you bump into a friend who’s about to sell their soul to the bookstore and buy textbooks there, tell them about this awesomely useful blog post. =)

Borrow it from the public library or the college library. Factor in the maximum number of renewals and time it out so you know you will still have the book right before an exam or for writing a paper (the Boston Public Library in Copley, one of my favorite places, allows up to 5 renewals of 4 weeks each—adding up to a whole semester!). Ask about the details for someone putting the book on hold if it’s a rare book. You wouldn’t want to be required to return the book right before exams if someone else puts it on hold close to the end of the semester while you still have it. But if it’s a book with tons of copies, then hakuna matata.

Read it in the bookstore. It forces you to sit down to study. YOU MAY NOT LEAVE UNTIL YOU FINISH YOUR WORK. DO NOT PASS GO.

Read the copy put on reserve at your university library. (But not all profs put one there.)

Borrow it from a really hot classmate. (It’s a good excuse to “study.”)

Borrow it from your professor. Go to their office and tell them that you can’t afford the textbook. Ask if they have an extra copy you can borrow. Some of my bold friends have done this. While you’re in their office, discuss your interest in the class, your career plans, and whatnot. Perfect bondage time with your professor! Oooops, I meant bonding!

– Buy it and share the book and split the price with a classmate. Sometimes professors want you to buy the whole book even if you’ll be reading just one or two good chapters from it. If that’s the case, the book will be easy to share.

Purposely buy an older edition of the book. Usually not that much changes from one edition to the next. Then maybe check with a classmate or at the bookstore to catch up on what you’re missing.

Buy a copy of the textbook without the accompanying CD. I’ve never had a prof who required us to use the textbook CD.

– This one is ultra-risky, but maybe don’t even read the “required” book at all. If word-of-mouth and (which isn’t always the the best way to choose professors) say you won’t be tested on the reading, you might go this route. Of course this might take away from your learning experience, but sometimes you need the courage to read and learn what you want to. I have a bad (or is it good?) habit of choosing and reading my own stack of books on similar topics for free at the bookstore or library, and sometimes just skimming the required ones. Professors usually get very impressed by my additional knowledge. Free brownie points!

Good luck with the process! And remember to tell other students not to sell their souls to their campus bookstore. Use your extra saved cash to buy something useful, like red cups and ping pong balls, right? Or maybe you can even adopt an endangered koala. Too bad you’re usually not allowed to pack them for your dorm.

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Found this article useful? Saved a lot of money? This blog runs on visits. How can you help?
–> Share this site with your friends, especially on social media and social bookmarking sites. Tag How to Spell College on Facebook or use #howtospellcollege on social media.
–> Let me know how much money you may have saved!!

Thank you!!

– by Nathan Chow
Boston University Class of 2009