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10 Of The Best Gifts For College Students: 2011 Holiday Gift Guide

December 1, 2011

It’s now December, which means that Christmas is only a few short weeks away. If you have any college students on your list (or soon-to-be college students), trying to figure out what to get them can be challenging. Well not to worry, because we’ve got you covered. Below are 10 awesome gift ideas for college students, with prices ranging from just $5 all the way up to a few hundred dollars. As a current college student, I can assure you that I personally would love to recieve any of the gifts on this list.


Magazine Subscription

Price: $5-$20

The best thing about giving someone a subcription is that the gift can last all year long. And although everyone is talking about digital magazines these days, it’s hard to beat the price of a paper magazine subscription (not to mention what happens if you spill coffee on it). Amazon currently has some pretty impressive deals on subscriptions, with prices as low as $5. It’s also just fun to receive mail when you are living away from home.

 

 

Netflix Subscription

Price: $7.99 for 1 month, $95.88 for 12 months

Like magazine subscriptions, a Netflix gift subscription is nice because it can last for the entire year. Netflix provides thousands of movies and television episodes, which can be streamed to laptops, smartphones, and televisions. On campuses across America, when a certain movie or tv show is referenced, a common follow-up question is: “Is it on Netflix?” Yep, Netflix is a pretty big deal to college students.

 


Target Gift Card

Price: Up to you.

Giving a gift card to a store such as Target can be a great idea, because it acts as the Swiss Army Knife of gift cards. If a college students needs some food, or laundry detergent, or video games, or whatever, a Target gift card is the perfect solution.

 


Water Bottle

Price: $10-$20

Many campuses are working to reduce plastic water bottle consumption, and in doing so they are installing water bottle refill stations. A high quality water bottle is a great way to ensure adaquette water intake, without the high cost of disposable water bottles.

 


iTunes Gift Card

Price: $15+

An iTunes gift card is to media consumption what a Target gift card is to food consumption. The nice thing about an iTunes gift card is that it can be used to purchase anything from the plethora of Apple’s media offerings. Whether a college student wants to rent a movie, buy a new music album, or catch up on a television show, an iTunes gift card is the easiest way to go. There are also many iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps that are super handy for college students, all of which can be purchased with, you guessed it, an iTunes gift card.

 

 

Bulk Granola Bars

Price: $15+

It may seem silly to give someone a big box of granola bars for Christmas, but it won’t when one of the granola bars, hastily thrown into a backpack, means the difference between energy to study and a 2 day fast. Granola bars also decrease a students dependency on on-campus food offerings, which are pretty much always a rip-off.


High Quality Earphones

Price: $30+

Anyone who has stepped foot on a college campus sometime in the last five years will attest to the fact that 90% of everyone on campus has headphones in. Headphones are definitely quite handy when it comes blocking out background noise while studying. Here’s the thing about the headphones that came with your iPod or smartphone, however: they suck. Not only is the sound quality bad, but they can actually increase the liklihood of hearing damage. Why? High quality earphones are much better at blocking outside noises, which means that you don’t need to turn up the volume quite as high on your device. Contrast that with low quality “included” earbuds, which I usually have to crank up most of the way to drown out the girls next to me in the library talking about Twilight. Any college student will thank you for some high quality earbuds, and there are even several sets with built in remotes, good for controlling an iPod or smartphone without removing it from your pocket.


Topo Designs Backpack

Price: $90

I came across this backpack a few days ago, and was struck with how well it is designed. Topo designs makes extremely high quality gear, and this backpack is minimalistic, while at the same time containing pockets for the four primary things that college students carry around with them: a laptop, smartphone, notebook, and writing utensil.

 


Amazon Kindle

Price: $79-$199

Amazon recently released a brand new line of Kindles, and they are making quite a splash. The cheapest $79 Kindle is the smallest and lightest Kindle ever, and is a great go-to option for students who want to try out Amazon’s recently announced Kindle textbook rentals. Amazon also released a Kindle Touch, which starts at $99 and features a touch-screen display, a great feature for readers who like to take lots of notes. Lastly, Amazon also released the Kindle Fire, their $199 7 inch color tablet aimed to take a swing at the iPad market. Though the Kindle Fire isn’t too great for productivity or reading, it seems to have hit a homerun with those looking to stream a movie or play Angry Birds.

 

Apple iPhone 4S

Price: $199-$850

Apple’s latest iPhone is its fastest selling device ever, and for good reason. The camera on the iPhone 4S is exceptionally good, with video and photo quality that rivals compact point and shoot camera. The 4S also features Siri, the voice-activated “digital assistant” that allows a user to dictate an email, add a reminder, and check the weather, all simply by speaking to the iPhone. Prices range from reasonable ($199-$399 if contract-subsidized) to quite high ($649-$849 if purchased outside of a contract). With thousands of useful productivity and education centered apps, not to mention Siri, the iPhone 4S is definitely one of the best all-around gadgets for college students.

Hands On With iTunes Match: Review

November 17, 2011

Apple announced iTunes Match several months ago, and since that time I’ve been anxiously awaiting its arrival. Like most of us who began building a digital music collection pre-2007, much of my music was encoded in the low quality bitrate of 128 kbps, and iTunes Match promised to “upgrade” most of these files to a much more pleasant 256 kbps. When the service was finally released earlier this week (after missing it’s “end of October” launch date), I signed up immediately, crossed my fingers, and hoped that it would live up to my anticipation. After spending a couple of days tinkering around with it, I thought I would pass on my experience.

The Basics: When iTunes first debuted, Apple was encouraging consumers to look at their computers as their “digital hub.” Music, photos, and videos would essentially “live” on computers, where they could easily be transfered to iPods (and later iPhones and iPads). Apple is currently shifting that strategy away from a computer-based digital hub and toward a cloud-based digital hub. This cloud-based hub is coined “iCloud” by Apple, and iTunes Match is essentially a tool to transfer your music online. Once your music is online, you can access it from any computer or iDevice by entering your iTunes credentials.

The Specifics: iTunes Match is a subscription service that costs $24.99 per year. Once you sign-up and pay the money, iTunes Match begins scanning your music library. The amount of time that this scan can take depends on the size of the music library, the speed of your internet connection, and the number of people that are currently hammering Apple’s servers. My library is about 5,000 songs, and the scanning process took me about an hour and a half. I was surprised in the short amount of time that it took, considering that iTunes was performing the scan on the day that iTunes Match debuted. Once the scan is complete and iTunes “Delivers Your Results,” it will label every track in your library with an iTunes Match status. There are several different statuses, which are explained in this excellent MacWorld article, but the primary statuses that I saw were “Matched,” “Uploaded,” and “Error.” Matched means that the track was found on Apple’s servers, and that you can download the iTunes Music Store formatted version on the song on any computer that you log in on. Apple matches the songs based on the actual music (not what you’ve named the tracks). Uploaded means that the track wasn’t found on Apple’s servers, but that it was uploaded so that you can download that exact file on any computer that you log in to. Error obviously means there was a problem. Out of about 5,000 songs, iTunes Match “matched” around 4,300 tracks, uploaded around 700 tracks, and posted an error on about 40 tracks. These results seemed pretty good, as most of the songs that it was unable to match were definitely not on iTunes (live bootlegs and local independent bands).

Then What?: Good question. Once you have your results, what you do with iTunes Match is really up to you. I began finding which tracks were low quality, and upgrading them to the higher quality 256 kbps file. To do this, all you have to do is select the track and delete it. A pop-up window will appear asking if you’d like to delete the track from iCloud. Say no, and the track will be deleted from your library (it will remain listed, but will be greyed out). To re-download the track, either click the handy iCloud button next to the track name, or right-click and select download. Within seconds, the nice 256 kbps track will download. I’ve gone through my library and upgraded all the lower quality songs, which ended up being an astounding 2,000 or so tracks. Note that this quality upgrade process only works with songs identified as “Matched.” Also note that your tags (Album data, lyrics, notes, etc.) remain intact throughout the process.

Other Computers: Like I already said, one of the nicest parts of iTunes Match is the ability to download the tracks on multiple computers. If you buy a new computer (or heaven forbid have your hard drive die), you can now redownload your entire music library quite easily. This is also nice for multiple people using one iTunes account, as they can now keep their libraries synchronized with ease. iTunes Match also increases the value of my 16GB iPhone as a music listening device. With iTunes Match enabled, my iPhone displays a list of my entire library and allows me to select which songs I want to listen to, instead of having to pick and choose which songs to sync.

The Bad Stuff: My experience with iTunes Match thus far has not been without hiccups. When I initially signed up, Apple’s servers were getting hammered, and it took a while for my sign-up request to go through. Last night (as I was in the middle of downloading about 1,000 tracks in higher quality files), Apple’s servers apparently had another problem. I was unable to connect to iCloud, and the greyed-out songs in my library (that I had deleted to make room for the upgraded files) dissapeared. Needless to say, watching a third of my music library vanish freaked me out, but I noticed that iTunes was still saying that I had the full 5,000 songs in iCloud, so I figured it was a server problem. This morning I was relieved to see all the songs back in my library, available to download. Another weird thing about iTunes Match is the random tracks it didn’t match. While many of these tracks aren’t in iTunes, there were a few albums where only one track wasn’t matched. This doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, because an iTunes-ripped CD should either be completely recognized or not recognized at all. Why would every track but track 8 be identified, when every track was imported at the same time and with the same ripping settings? Other people have expressed frustration that their iTunes library is over 25,000 songs (iTunes Match’s limit), though I highly doubt that a large percentage of consumers have over 25,000 songs in their library.

Conclusion: I’ve been pretty stoked with my iTunes Match experience thus far. One thing that people need to understand, however, is that this service isn’t as easy as an On/Off switch. In order to get the most from it, you will need to spend some time organizing, downloading, and replacing your music. This was something I was planning on (and honestly needed to do anyway), but if you don’t have the time to spend on your music library right now, maybe wait to sign-up for iTunes Match until you do have the time. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes with iTunes Match, and understanding exactly what’s happening is definitely a hurdle to overcome. Being able to upgraded 2,000 tracks to a much higher 256 kbps was easily worth the money for me, as is the knowledge that if my computer and Time Machine drive die, I’ll still be able to retrieve my music. Though I’ve encountered some frustrating elements to the service (why in the world is a single track of an album not matched?), I’m willing to bet that in a few months it will be more polished and useful than it is now.

If you have any questions about iTunes Match, check out this awesome guide on TheNextWeb.com, or drop me a comment.

What Does President Obama’s Student Loan Plan Mean?

November 8, 2011

Ah, the woes of funding higher education. As every college student knows, the costs of higher education have risen dramatically over the past few years; even in graduate programs online and other nontraditional programs that are usually less expensive. What’s more, there’s no end in site to the increasing prices of tuition, student fees, and housing. While education remains important (college graduates are currently experiencing much lower unemployment rates than those without a degree), the thought of graduating with piles of student debt has led many to question their decision to attend college. The total of America’s student debt has passed $1 trillion, which is more than the total of the nation’s credit card debt! Indeed, a large percentage of those supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement are doing so because of their frustration with crippling student debt.

As rare as it may seem, Washington has been listening. At the end of October, President Obama announced a plan aimed at reducing the pressure of student debt. This plan reduces the maximum required payment on student loans from 15% of discretionary income to 10% of discretionary income. Further, the plan will allow remaining student debt to be forgiven after 20 years (the current debt forgiveness period is 25 years). Lastly, the plan would provide a low interest rate debt consolidation program for federal loans.While these changes were set to happen in 2014 anyway, President Obama is pushing for them to take affect next year instead.

So what does this mean for current students, as well as those who have already graduated? The White House estimates that over 7 million borrowers will be affected by this plan, to the tune of a few hundred dollars per month each. Perhaps more importantly, however, this plan aims to change some of the perceptions currently surrounding higher education in America. For our economy to remain healthy, education is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, thousands of dollars of potential student debt has discouraged many from attending college, and plans such as this one hope to minimize that hesitancy, while at the same time showing the world that the United States still values education.

While the plan has some opposition (I am actually not completely certain that I support it in its entirety), it’s fantastic to see lawmakers paying attention to the millions of citizens that are pursuing (or have pursued) a higher education. Most of us, regardless of political opinion, value education, and a well-educated America is an integral part of emerging from our current economic climate.

5 More Awesome (And Cheap) Halloween Costume Ideas

October 25, 2011

So you still haven’t planned your Halloween costume eh? Well, you officially have one week to figure one out. Just in case our last post of 5 Halloween costume ideas wasn’t up your ally, how does five more sound?

Mustache on a Stick

Sure, it’s minimalist. But it’s simple, easy, and likely to get some laughs. Via MarthStewart.com.

Awesome Party Guy Viral Video

Poster board + markers = this cheap costume. Via NothingCorporate.com.

Lego Guy

The killer costume is made primarily of cardboard, styrofoam, and paint. Via CoderKev.

Spider Glasses

Another great costume for minimalists, these spectacles are pretty trippy. Via MarthaStewart.com.

Occupy Wall Street Protestors

Show your topical know-how with a picket sign and sleeping bag.

What Occupy Wall Street Means For Students

October 12, 2011

image credit: adbusters.org

You have probably already heard of Occupy Wall Street, the New York City protest that is quickly spreading all across the country. While the group has no specific demands, it is comprised of individuals pleading for change; in the financial system, job market, political process, environment, etc.  The interesting thing about the group, however, is that one of the primary topics of discussion among the protestors is student debt, and the lack of available jobs for recent graduates.

A blog called We Are The 99 Percent is comprised of photos of lists from people all over the country. These lists detail the countless frustrations brought on by the economy, capitalism, and the like. Interestingly enough,  almost every list says something about student debt, and the hopelessness that surrounds it.

This led to quite a bit of contemplation on my part. As a current college student (hopefully) set to graduate this spring, it can be quite disheartening to hear of so many college graduates unable to find jobs in their chosen fields. The fact of the matter is, college is really expensive, and like most students, I’m banking on the fact that my degree will provide the opportunity to be financially successful; not rich, just comfortable. Like most of us, I’ve been promised my entire life that a college education is the “right choice,” and even the “only choice.”

How terrible of a realization it must be, then, to graduate college and not be able to find a job. It seems that this scenario is one of the primary forces behind Occupy Wall Street. Essentially people are saying, “Look, I upheld my end of the bargain, Uncle Sam, so why am I still working at Taco Bell?”

I guess the point of this post is this: If you are a current (or soon to be) college student, take a closer look at the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’m not saying to support it, but many of people in it are focused on the problems with American higher education, problems which easily could affect you as well.

5 Seriously Awesome (& Cheap) Halloween Costume Ideas

October 5, 2011

I know that it’s just the beginning of October, but let’s be honest, if you want your Halloween costume to consist of something more than a Walmart wig, you should probably start planning now. For inspiration, here are some of the coolest Halloween costumes that we’ve ever seen. As a bonus, all of them are within a student’s budget.

See Through Guy

By utilizing an old portable DVD player and a video camera, this rad costume provides a pretty cool effect.

Way to go Evan Booth.

Head In A Jar

Just some old clothes, padding, & one of those big plastic cheese puff containers. Awesome.

Via Coolest Homemade Costumes.

Beekeeper

I want to try this just to see if it can fake people out. Via MarthaStewart.com

Mummy

A mummy is a classic, but I don’t think I’ve seen a cooler mummy costume.

Via MarthaStewart.com

Army Men

This makes me think of Toy Story. It could actually be sort of creepy though.

Via Coolest Homemade Costumes.

Get Ready For The Season Premier of The Office!

September 20, 2011

Can you believe that the eighth season of The Office is just around the corner? The season premier is this Thursday, September 22, and the question on everyone’s mind is the same; WHO WILL BE THE NEW BOSS? After going through several different bosses at the end of last season, the bonafide replacement to Steve Carrell with likely be selected within the first couple episodes of Season 8. Rumors have stated that James Spader will take the role briefly before quickly being promoted to the CEO position. So who is the new boss going to be? The cast of The Office released this fun video a few days ago that addresses that very subject.

While it’s a fun video, it obviously doesn’t provide any help in answering the question at hand. The way I look at it, there are three options:

1) Pam

2) Andy

3) Wildcard

If I had to put my money on one of the those three options, it would have to be Andy. Ed Helms (the actor that plays Andy) has become quite famous over the last few years, and I think it makes sense that he’s put into more of a prominent role. What’s more, it seems like most people like him, meaning that his appointment to the boss position probably wouldn’t alienate too many viewers. When it all comes down to it, however, I’m speculating just as much as the next guy. None of us know who the true replacement will be, and we won’t know until season 8 begins. Do you have any guesses/inside information? Let us know in the comments!

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