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Academic Tips during the Winter Break

Keep Calm: It's Almost Winter Break

Source: UMBC Off-Campus Student Services

November 18, 2016

By Katrina Dunlap

Deadlines for papers loom and final exams are approaching for us all. We’ve marked our calendars for the last day of the fall semester and are looking forward to the winter break—approximately five weeks until the spring semester begins. While it is enticing to stay warm under the covers and binge watch your favorite season of the Walking Dead or Scandal, consider how to use this time that would yield the greatest benefit to you academically. If you are not sure of what to do during this timeframe, consider the following ideas that can keep you engaged with your academic goals and will help you remain mentally thawed.

Spring forward. The typical winter break is anywhere between 5 and 6 weeks. Build in time for family and friends but don’t overindulge and miss your opportunity to work on your field statement or prepare for a challenging course in the spring. Most professors make their syllabi available. So check out the requisites for the course. It is never too early to begin writing towards a 20-page final paper.

Fall back. The break is a good time to reflect on what worked and what did not work during the fall semester. For example, if you found yourself barely meeting the deadlines for course assignments, think about how you would adjust your schedule moving forward. Is there an article or book that you skimmed just to get by in your class that bears some weight on your academic interests? Carve out some time to read for more comprehension and understanding. This will only make you a better student by the next semester.

Summer solstice. Keep track of your deadlines for summer internships, co-ops and fellowships. You can set yourself up with a dynamic opportunity for the summer and years to come if you got accepted into a summer program. In my previous blog on “Tips on Internships and Co-ops,” I discussed the benefits of these programs and the long lasting implications on your career goals. Don’t let the winter pass you by without planning ahead for the next break.

While there are many things that can fill up your days during this time, by no means exclude the important people in your life—a parent wanting to spend some quality time, a child anticipating a game of “hide and go seek,” or a cohort looking to kick back at a happy hour. No matter how you choose to spend your winter break, make it count!

Note: This blog was inspired by an American InterContinental University blog posted on December 14, 2015 http://www.aiuniv.edu/blog/december-2015/winter-break

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To Brunch, or Not to Brunch… That Should Be the Question

10 November 2016

Happy Wednesday, Mason grad and professional students. I know that our blog posts this year have been a bit information-heavy as we sought to provide resources for your success. So, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to turn a recent conversation about weekend brunches into this week’s blog. In a recent conversation about the notion of brunching, I discovered, while the popularity is known for the DMV locals, it’s not understood why it is such a social and cultural practice in the region. For most, brunch can be a practice and a pleasure on a given Saturday or Sunday; however, the DC metro area seems to take their brunch standards to another level. So, I’ve decided to look into the cultural experience of “brunch” and where Mason graduate students should find themselves in the cultural discussion.

Foodies, health-nuts, and nutritionists are of two minds about the value of brunch. Harvest MD, a blog on pleasure trends, argues that brunch is great as it allows its participants to sleep in, eat smaller meals, and binge on healthy foods and ingredients.[1] Mansi Belani, an opposing nutritionist, suggests that “people who practice it on a regular basis often find themselves putting on extra kilos… [eating] brunch on an empty stomach [leads]… to eating too much too soon… adding extra calories. Long fasting and overeating during brunch leads to long gap for the next meal, [causing]… more fat accumulation. [And s]kipping one of the meals of the day on a regular basis could lead to nutrient deprivation.”[2]

Here, we have two opinions on the issue, and this blogger tends to agree with/pray that Debbie Strong and Kelly Kennedy, RD, are correct, because I love brunching. Strong states from the get-go that “weekend brunch… can be an easy meal for splurging,” and suggests that like any meal out, it’s what and how you eat that really matters.[3] The health-conscious “don’t have to choose between enjoying… and skipping [brunch] altogether.”[4] They just have to brunch smart. Strong then offers 7 tips for smart brunching: Sip Selectively, Don’t Shy Away from a Favorite, Create Your Own Omelet, Avoid Unhealthy Extras, Size Up Your Sides, Go Light on the Sugar, and Build a Better Burger.

  • “Sip Selectively” is an easy one: don’t over drink, empty calories are a real thing, and remember what your mixers are, because they can lead to more sugar.
  • “Don’t Shy Away from a Favorite” reminds readers that we all love pancakes and waffles. Again, like Sipping Selectively, it’s about quantity and quality: don’t eat too many and make sure you are eating the healthiest version. Also, make wise decisions about toppings.
  • Not being a big fan of eggs, not sure I’ll join in this one; however, for those of you who are, “Creating Your Own Omelet” is a great idea because you can fill your omelet with yummy vegetables … or so I’ve been told.
  • “Avoid Unhealthy Extras” is about keeping it basic. Don’t get Eggs Benedict, when you can get eggs and toast without all the extra calories.
  • “Size Up Your Sides,” in my opinion, is a bit of the “no duh” tip. If you fry the food or get unhealthy sides, you are going to be adding calories. Do it at your own discretion, but know I am going to be adding my home-fries, french fries, and/or hash browns.
  • “Go Light on the Sugar” is for the oatmeal and granola aficionados. I un/fortunately have never been into this; however, if I choose to join the bandwagon, I now know to order my oatmeal plain and add my own sugar and fruit.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, “Build a Better Burger” is about making the burger you order not only a delicious, but also a healthy option. Much like Tip #4, it’s about what you add. (I will probably always add the bacon and cheese.)

All that being said, I hope you can agree with me that the most important part of brunch is the social aspect. Even Ms. Belani stated, “Brunch has become popular nowadays… it’s simply a plan for Sundays and holidays or a menu for… parties.”[5] For graduate and professional students, this aspect of the brunching culture is key. We need a space, place, and time in our ever busy schedule, with families, work, school, and homework keeping us always running around. This ritual allows a chance to catch our breath with friends and peers and to have a communal experience that is needed to keep our mental stability, what little we have during this graduate experience.

Now let’s get to the fun part of the blog: My completely subjective recommendations for the 3 best brunch spots in DC, Arlington, and Fairfax.

DC has an endless list of places to brunch, but I’ll give you my favorite three: Founding Farmers, Barrel, and DC Harvest.

Founding Farmers is probably my favorite restaurant in the District. I love both their dinner and brunch. (I highly suggest going getting the lobster mac and cheese for dinner.) Their rustic atmosphere and signature cocktails featuring house-made liquors make brunch a truly outstanding experience. For those who are die-hard egg people, the Benedict with Crab is raved about and a favorite of my friend group. Now my favorite meal on the menu is a splurge dish; however, if you’re okay with that, I’d go with their Chicken and Waffles.

Barrel was actually the second place I went to for brunch in the District since moving here in August, and it’s one I keep going back to. Truth be told, Barrel is in actuality “Barrel, Washington’s Bourbon Bar;” however, the food is amazing and you by no means have to get bourbon, though their extensive list does make brunch fun. My favorite brunch dish is the duck and shrimp banh reo… so good.

DC Harvest is my favorite place to get seasonal food in the District, and they just so happen to have an amazing brunch menu. As a southerner, I can be a bit picky about my grits, and though theirs is not exactly how my great aunt used to make them, DC Harvest’s shrimp and grits are definitely worth a try.

Like DC, Arlington is becoming more and more of a destination for brunch. My top choices for my neighborhood are Bracket Room, Circa, and Bayou Bakery.

Bracket Room is probably one of my favorite spots in the DMV area. They have a great happy hour with half-off beer, liquor, and apps. As to their brunch, they’re my favorite place to go because I can watch the game (or games, as the case may be), while having brunch with my friends. They have an all-you-can-eat brunch for $35 with 1¢ mimosas.

Circa has locations in both the District and NoVa, but its Clarendon location is one of my favorite places to brunch in Arlington. It probably has one of the most extensive brunch menus I’ve seen. Their Bison Blue Cheeseburger is my favorite eat at Circa, but I’m sure I could rebuild the burger better.

Bayou Bakery, in some ways, really does remind me of being back in New Orleans. If you can’t have Café du Monde’s beignets, then the ones they fry up at Bayou Bakery are a second best. Also for those who like oatmeal and want to try out Strong’s 6th tip, Bayou Baker serves great oatmeal, or so I’ve been told.

Full disclosure: I have not had brunch in Fairfax, as I try to limit the commute to Monday-Friday. Though I have not been to these restaurants, my friends have helped me out with their top picks: Artie’s, Ozzie’s Good Eats, and De Clieu Coffee and Sandwiches.

Artie’s is on Old Lee Highway and is a member of the local Great American Restaurants chain. The favored meal is called the Bubble and Squeak, a chicken and poached egg dish. All Great American Restaurants feature freshly baked goods from their own Best Buns Bread Company.

Ozzie’s Good Eats is also a member of the Great American Restaurants family. The Breakfast Flatbread is the meal to get for those visiting for brunch.

De Clieu Coffee and Sandwiches is the pick out of the three I would most like to visit. Located in downtown Fairfax, they support local roasters committed to keeping a small carbon footprint. With seasonal drinks, gelato, and a sandwich called “Crazy Irish Man,” De Clieu is definitely making me consider coming out to Fairfax for brunch one of these weekends.

With this all said, go out and brunch. Try some of these restaurants, go to new ones and report back if you like. I am always looking for a new place. If there are spots not mentioned you feel should have been, email me; I’ll try them out and put them in the next edition of brunch spots.

As always, I hope you found this post fun and informative. Looking for a specific topic or looking to share your own thoughts, email me and we’ll looking to a new blog topic or even a guest writer. I hope you have a great week.


Updated by Austin A. Deray, February 14, 2018

[1] Leland, “3 Reasons Why Brunch is Healthy For You,” Harvest MD, October 15, 2015, accessed October 31, 2016, http://harvestmd.com/3-reasons-brunch-healthy/.

[2] Mansi Belani, “Foodie Dilemma: Is Brunch Healthy?,” blogger Trina Remedios, India Times, June 15, 2012, accessed October 31, 2016, http://www.indiatimes.com/health/healthyliving/ foodie-dilemma-is-brunch-healthy-235711-3.html.

[3] Debbie Strong, “What Nutritionists Order When They Go Out for Brunch,” reviewer Kelly Kennedy, Everyday Health, April 05, 2016, accessed October 31, 2016, http://www.everydayhealth.com/pictures/what-to-order-at-brunch/#01.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Belani.

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Student Loan Debt Reduction Strategies

“The only man who sticks closer to you in adversity than a friend is a creditor.” – Unknown

“Creditors have better memories than debtors.” – Benjamin Franklin

If you are a college graduate or currently a matriculating graduate student, chances are you have student loans. While student loans have made it possible for students to pursue their academic desires, many graduates have been consumed and burdened by these financial mechanisms. It has been widely noted that approximately 43 million Americans are burdened with nearly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, which compared to last year, is a six percent increase.[i][ii][iii]  Many economists are predicting that student loan debt will negatively impact the housing market and the U.S. economy in the long term similarly to the 2008 Great Recession. Even worse, graduate students with huge amounts of student loan debts are being turned away from car, home and business loans.

How can one quell this inevitability?

The easiest and most common strategy to reduce your student loans is refinancing. However, there are other strategies, often overlooked, that can be employed and help alleviate the weight of your debt by the time you complete your program.

Canceling subscriptions

If you were to re-evaluate every subscription, from cable and Internet service providers to your daily newspaper, you would be able to discern the necessity of these monthly financial obligations. Transferring the savings from limiting or canceling most of these subscriptions to paying down the interest on your student loans could save you money in the long-run.

Volunteering to pay it down

Do you have a passion for helping others? Well, why not offer your time and in return get your student loans reduced? Organizations like SponsorChange.org “empower volunteers by creating a pathway to meaningful skill-based project opportunities at social impact organizations, while helping volunteers raise funding to pay down their student loan debt.”[iv] For example, if you are skilled in graphics and web design or communications, there are opportunities to support a non-profit organization to revamp its website during a 2-month period.  As a volunteer, you will be rewarded for completion of the project with a direct loan payment up to $1,000 in some cases. That’s a win-win.

Doubling down

The treacherous part of paying down student loan debt is paying off the interest. Since interest accrues and accumulates daily, you become further and further away from tackling the principal balance. Consider that you make your monthly student loan payment for 12 consecutive months. If you were to double your payment during those months, you can move closer to attacking the principal balance sooner rather than later. Additionally, you can save on interest payments in the long run. By automating direct payments to your loan servicer following a semi-monthly or bi-weekly paycheck, you can make this effort less obvious. This strategy can also motivate your commitment to reducing your debts in a consistent manner over time.

Go abroad

Working abroad is nothing new; however, as student loan debts swell, graduates are finding that working abroad helps pay off debts faster. The most popular work locations include places like the India, Korea or China where graduates are opting to teach English while benefiting from the low cost of living in these countries. Per the 2016 tax rules, the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion rule allows US citizens working abroad to claim income tax exemption on the first $100,800 earned each year and deduct qualified housing costs.[v] What doesn’t have to be paid to Uncle Sam can be sent to Auntie Navient or Grandmother Great Lakes with love!

In conclusion, the price that students pay after accepting a student loan has long-term implications beyond graduating. Student loans, while they are important for educational and career attainment, have also stifled personal income, wealth and prosperity. Don’t allow student loans to overwhelm. Consider the aforementioned strategies to reduce your student loan obligation one payment at a time.

[i] The inspiration for this blog originated from Betsy Mayotte’s U.S. News article entitled “4 Creative Ways to Reduce Your Student Loan Debt,” June 18, 2014. http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/student-loan-ranger/2014/06/18/4-creative-ways-to-reduce-your-student-loan-debt

[ii] “A Look at the Shocking Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2016,” Accessed 20 October 2016, https://studentloanhero.com/student-loan-debt-statistics/

[iii] Grant, J. Student Loan Debt The Next Bubble? American Bankruptcy Institute Journal. (12/01/2013) ,  32 (11), p. 44 – 45,88-89.

[iv] “About Us,” SponsorChange. Accessed 26 October 2016. http://www.sponsorchange.org/?page_id=27

[v] “Figuring the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion,” Internal Revenue Service. Accessed 26 October 2016, https://www.irs.gov/individuals/international-taxpayers/figuring-the-foreign-earned-income-exclusion

[vi] picture: National Student Loan Debt

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