Five ways to enjoy “Suicide Sunday”

I stumbled into Cambridge, England on “Suicide Sunday,” a joyous occasion in which the local university students cut loose and get wasted blow off steam following the completion of final exams. The streets are packed with tourists and students, the former gawking, the latter playing. To witness the events is figuratively intoxicating, while to participate offers a more literal experience. The booze flows plentifully, and merriment is omnipresent.

So, how can you get in on the action? Call ahead to the Cambridge University to find out when Suicide Sunday will be (it’s always in June). Once you hit the ground, here are a few ways to pass the time:

1. Pour yourself a drink: If you’re clever, enter one of the colleges. The signs prohibit non-student entry, and there are security guards just inside those doors (as I learned the hard way). But, if you can slip inside, you’ll be at the center of the party. It’s fairly likely that free liquor will flow your way.

Backup Plan: If the rent-a-cops bust you, shoot for an aquatic landing. Take a “punt” (flat-bottomed boat) or other vessel onto the River Cam. Slip up to the shore and climb out. Bribe a student (in the boat and on shore). Get wasted. Too easy.

2. Stay on the river for a bit: “Punting,” mentioned above, is really nothing more than pushing a boat with a pole along the River Cam. You can either rent your own and try your luck or hire a “chauffeured” punt to bring you along the river. Keep in mind that there will be plenty of self-hired punts out there, so you’re best bet is to stay in the hands of a professional.

People Watch: There are parties at the colleges all along the river. Watch for the splashes, as drunk students tend to toss each other into the water. Sometimes, small wrestling matches occur that ultimately lead to a trip into the drink. You can enjoy the show from start to finish.

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3. Fill your stomach: The most common picnic fare seems to be beer and cheap Indian food. Join the party! Both are plentiful. Grab your grub and head out for the punt bridges behind St. Catherine’s (on Silver Street). Look for a spot in the unmowed grass, and chow down. Buy a little extra – you may be able to host a small party of drunk college kids!

Heckle the Help: When you’ve finished eating, stake out a spot on a bridge. To fit in with the locals, pick up a few water balloons. Then, hunt drunks. You won’t be alone. More than a few people were on the prowl while I was waiting for my punt.

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4. Enjoy the architecture: Yes, there is a cultural aspect to Cambridge University. The easiest way to satisfy your intellectual obligation is to wander the streets and enjoy the downright regal architecture that the various colleges offer. Also, you can do this while meandering from one rockin’ party to the next, so you don’t have to sacrifice any precious drinking time.

Watch for Pitchers: The clean cut British boys pushing punting tickets aren’t as skilled as the souk-minders of Marrakech, but they’re trying. Don’t get sucked in by their innocent charm while you’re snapping photos of the buildings. Make your arrangements for punting when you get down to the river.

5. Protest, protest, protest: Cambridge, England is not unlike Cambridge, Massachusetts, in that there is always some group fighting the social and political injustices of the world. On the most recent Suicide Day, I saw a bike rally chanting: “Free Gaza now!”

Let It Roll: Speaking of bikes, they’re the most popular form of transportation in Cambridge. Look for them when you cross the street. Hell, rent one for a while. It’s nice to see the world like a local.

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Disclosure: Many thanks to Visit Britain, which picked up the tab for this trip and to British Airways for the flights. Obviously, it did not pay for my opinions. If they did, I doubt this is the story that would have been commissioned.

Hey, college students: Here are 5 ways you can afford that next trip

College can be a cruel time for would-be globe-trotters: It’s often the time when you most want to travel– whether it’s Spring Break in Mexico or a month in Europe– but it’s also one of the times you’re least able to. Why?

No money. Sure, it might be easy to take out tens of thousands of dollars of student loans to fund your trip, but you will pay for this, with compound interest, later. Better to find some creative ways to scrape together some cash so you can turn your dream trip into reality.

Here are five non-traditional tips that’ll save you some real dough:

1. Your campus bookstore is ripping you off big time. Please don’t tell me that you still buy and sell your textbooks at the campus bookstore. Why not just take your money and flush it directly down the toilet? (Or, hell, I’ll take it.)

Buying and selling your books online can save you hundreds of dollars per semester. (Half.com works best for me.) Another tip: As soon as you figure out what books you need for the semester, see if they’re available at your university’s library. Often you can check out textbooks for an entire semester and return them when the course is over.

Finally, if a course “requires” a textbook’s new 12th edition (cost $140), buy the book’s 11th edition (cost $2.99). The book’s page numbers will be different, but the content will probably be very similar.

2. Suckle at the government teat. If you work at least 20 hours per week and make less than $1,200 per month– the exact requirements depend on your state– you might be eligible for food stamps, a form of federal assistance that can provide you with hundreds of dollars per month to spend on groceries.

Nowadays, food stamp recipients don’t use actual stamps but a type of debit card, so that no one but you (and maybe the cashier) has to know that you’re suckling at the government teat.

3. Selling your plasma is not that embarassing. Nothing signals financial desperation quite like donating plasma. But if you’re saving up money for a trip, an extra $70 per week ($35 for donating twice per week) can really come in handy.

What’s involved in donating plasma? On your first trip, you’ll have to fill out lots of paperwork, receive a physical, and take a drug test. (Note: “Negative” is, paradoxically, a good result.) After that, you’ll sit back for an hour or so, watch the plasma drain from your body, and feel the cash roll in. For those of you near a major airport, eight plasma donations might just buy you a round-trip ticket to Costa Rica. Adiós, sangre!

4. Shopping at Aldi, Save-a-lot, and Price Rite is not that embarassing either. For the poor college student with $11 a week to spend on groceries, these stores are, for lack of a better term, the bomb-diggity. Canned goods, milk, and snacks are ridiculously cheap, and you won’t notice a drop in quality. Admittedly, these are no-frills places– not an olive bar, exotic fruit, or free sample to be found. But you’ll save a ton of money.

5. Here, have forty-five bucks. An investment site called Sharebuilder has an ongoing promotion that gives you $50 for signing up for their service and spending at least $5. I’ve done this, multiple times, and it works like a charm. And so far, the police have not come knocking on my door. (Well they have, but not for this.)

I’d suggest plugging “Sharebuilder promotion code 2009” into your favorite search engine, then doing some research. The money takes 4-6 weeks to arrive, but it’s free money, so quit yer bitchin’.

Have any more money-saving tips for poverty-stricken students? Leave ’em in the comments.

Talking travel with college admissions guru Katherine Cohen

Katherine Cohen is a former reader at Yale’s admissions office, founder of a admissions counseling service, Applywise, and author of two bestsellers about college admissions: The Truth About Getting In and Rock Hard Apps. As the summer season gets into high swing, she’s here to talk about planning college tours as part of a roadtrip.

Given the skyrocketing gas prices, why should students and their families bother with campus visits?

A campus visit will let you know if the college is the right place for you. You will be able to watch students interact with each other, their teachers and the local community. Also, you’ll be able to “imagine yourself” there– walking between classes and taking advantage of unique academic and social opportunities. Moreover, visiting a college shows the admissions office that you are serious about attending their school. The visit alone can help your chances for admission.

In light of increasing traveling costs, it is okay for students not to visit all the colleges that they are interested in. However, they should try to visit their top two or three choices, or visit colleges that are very different. For example, if you are interested in attending a small liberal arts college, you should try to visit at least one to see what life is like in that kind of environment. Only after your visit will you know if being on an intimate campus is right for you.
What’s the best time to schedule visits? Aren’t campuses mostly empty during the summer?

The best time to visit a college is during the school year, so you get to see the campus alive with action. Many campuses have open houses during the academic year, so try to take advantage of those when you can. It is important not to miss school days, however. If you can’t visit a campus during a weekend, then take advantage of your school holidays and breaks.

Summer is only a good time to visit if it is the only convenient time for you and your family. Sometimes you need several days to visit multiple college campuses (although I do not recommend visiting more than two in one day). Many use their family vacations to tour colleges, allowing younger siblings and parents to experience the campus as well. In addition, some colleges schedule on-campus interviews during the summer.

Yet, the quiet summer months don’t really show how vibrant a college’s campus life is. Furthermore, you’ll rarely have the opportunity to meet with current students and faculty. Moreover, the campus tours and information sessions tend to be very crowded, especially on Monday and Friday mornings, so you may not get to ask all the questions you have prepared.

Do college visits help your chances of admissions? If so, how much of a boost is it?

Many campuses (remember, there are more than 3,000 four-year colleges in the United States) note if you have visited campus, taken the tour and attended an information session. Making this effort to visit lets the college know you are a serious applicant and have done research to learn more about the school. However, for campuses that receive a large number of applications, campus visits may not play a significant role in affecting the admissions committee’s decision.

On the other hand, a campus visit helps you present a stronger application. You’ll be able to speak about your campus visit and mention specific facilities, programs and individuals, which will help convince the admissions committee that you deserve a letter of acceptance.

Are road trips to see colleges clustered in a region, like the Northwest, still feasible for families on a budget? What are some tips to make it cost-effective?

Absolutely! Take advantage of low-cost travel options. For example, in the Northeast, you can easily visit colleges using trains and buses. Also, families can find cheaper (and fun) accommodations like campsites to save money. Another option is for families to travel together-carpooling and sharing expenses will not only be great on your wallet, but for the environment. Finally, not many people know that there is on-campus housing for visitors. Not only will you save money, but you’ll be able to stay at a real residence hall and experience campus life. Be forewarned though-you might need to bring your own fan to stay cool.

The best way to save money is to do research beforehand. Don’t visit schools that you are not serious about. Schedule your day so you are using your time wisely. Find budget places where students eat, or pack a picnic lunch. Finally, visit schools that are close together. The more efficient you are with your time, the more money you will save.

Study Before Studying Abroad

Study AbroadDuring my college days I never took the opportunity to do a semester abroad and I always wished I had. Not so much to learn about how the world operates outside of my own backyard, I was a military brat so I’d been a good handful of places, but I know studying abroad probably could have helped me pick up a foreign language ten times faster than being here in the States. Boo-hoo for me though. Those days have come and past and opportunities to do it the way it should have, could have and would have been done are gone.

Anyhow, enough with my boring sob stories. CNN has a piece from Budget Travel Online about some things to consider before taking off for your first semester abroad. It’s very basic, but I imagine it could come in super handy for the college student who has never been outside of say, Walla Walla, Washington. Questions on whether credits will be transferred, what the living conditions will be like and if you’ll need a visa or not are included along with others. Like always you’ll probably have to seek counsel from someone at your university for the specifics, but this is should get you off and running at least half-way. Just be sure you do your research!

As always, good luck!

More University Students Taking Part in Study Abroad

Washington PostNot to rip off the Washington Post or anything today, but they’ve just got the travel news that seems worth sharing. In this article they talk about the rate at which student study abroad travel is going. I don’t know about you, but I’d say it’s booming – it has tripled in the last 20 years. Basically it used to be a time when only foreign language geeks would scurry off some place exotic like Cairo for a semester, but now more students in a wide range of majors are seeing the benefits of studying outside their mother country. Bravo, bravo!

Something like this should be a university requirement if you ask me, but it warms my heart more students are doing it anyway. I never got the chance to participate in the whole study-abroad experience in my colleges days, but I didn’t go to a traditional college and I seem to be making up fine for it these days. Kudos to the college kids out there doing it right!