For many students, college can be the best 4 or 5 years of their lives. However, there are also many students who get to college and start to experience burnout or confusion over what they want to do after school. Sometimes this can lead to falling grades, or students questioning whether or not going to college was even the right decision for them.

In certain cases, some people have taken a year off (gap year) in order to recharge their batteries and regain focus on their studies. While this can be a positive thing to do, it can also be a hard decision to explain to parents, family, friends, and fellow students.

The following are tips/strategies for people to maximize their year off before heading back to college to get their degree.

Have A Plan Before Making the Decision

If you decide that you want to take time off from school to clear your head, you should create a plan in order to sell the idea to your parents. The plan will not only put their mind at ease, but it will also be something that you can look back on throughout the year to keep you on track.

You should consider your gap year plan almost like a business plan. Make sure that you account for the reasons that you are taking the time off as well as what you plan on doing throughout each phase of your time away from school. It will be an added bonus if you can explain what types of lessons you will be learning during each phase.

Do not underestimate how important having a plan can be. Parents will initially view your year off with worry because they will fear that you will lose motivation to go back to school. They usually also have a significant financial investment tied into your academic success. Not to mention that the lack of a plan will also lead to an absence of personal focus and motivation on your end.

Get a Job, Gain Experience

The best thing that you can do during your time off is get a job. Whether it be paid or unpaid, get up every morning and work. The job does not have to be full-time and if you are creative it does not even have to be working for another person. There are plenty of students who have tried their hands at small start-up businesses with varying degrees of success. The main goal no matter what you do is to gain experience and transferable skills that you can add to your resume.

The job skills will not only help you develop career-wise, but also help you out in interviews when you can bet that you will be asked why you took a year off and what you did during that time period. Your short-term job may even help you focus on a major or career path that you had not considered prior to your gap year.

Read Anything and Everything Around You

One of the hardest things to do during a year away from college is keep your mind academically sharp. While your classmates are continuing to go to class, take exams, and write term papers, you will be away from the grind doing something completely different.

In order to continue developing the intellectual part of your brain, you should continue reading anything that is close to you. Whether it be a newspaper, novel, or something off the New York Times bestseller list, read it. When you are done reading it, try to find someone to discuss it with so you can continue practicing your critical thinking skills.

Try your best to stay up to date with current events. Watch the news occasionally, or visit sites like CNN to stay fresh on what is going on in the world. Another positive thing to do is make a reading list of books within your major. By the time you get back to college, you will be equipped with questions and knowledge that your classmates may not even have yet.

Avoiding your intellectual side will only lead to you wanting to avoid going back to school later, and that will just lead to an overall tough transition back to college.

Travel Outside of Your Comfort Zone

One of the beautiful things about being in college is being exposed to different people from so many different places. Once you take your time off, it is likely that you are going to head back to the same area that you grew up in, and the same ideas to which you were always exposed in the past.

If possible, try to find some time to travel to other areas during your break. It may end up as a big trip to Europe or the Caribbean, or it could just be a trip out of state to visit some family members. In either case, the trip will not only keep you excited, but it will also broaden your horizons. Take a moment to take in new places of interest and talk to as many people as possible in the new areas.

Ultimately, it may never be as easy to travel once you are back in college and/or the working world, so take advantage of it.

Keep Talking...To Everyone

While you are away from school, go out of your way to talk to as many people as possible. Talk to your parents. Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. Talk to your classmates back at school. Most importantly, find a way to talk to as many random people as possible that you come across on a daily basis. These new people will allow you to break out of your normal college social bubble, and be exposed to new ways of thinking.

As tempting as it may be, do not sit at home all day and play video games or watch television. The best way to learn more about yourself is usually by interacting with other people in the outside world.

Stay Positive and Keep Your Head Up

For some of you, the year away from school may have been less of a choice and more of a requirement. If you experienced burnout prior to taking a year off, bad grades may have led to your break. If this is the case, keep your head up and know that you are your own best support system.

Continue to keep your confidence up, even when people ask why you are not back at school. Be honest with yourself about what mistakes you may have made to get in the situation and start working on correcting them. Take it a step beyond and start working on solutions for when you get back to college so you do not end up in a similar situation later.

The most important thing to do is stay motivated no matter what the situation is. College can oftentimes be like a 12 round boxing match. Just because you got knocked down in the early rounds does not mean you cannot still win the fight. Use the time off to your advantage. Make a plan, stay busy, keep your mind sharp, and continue talking to people around you. At the end of it all, you will be happier for it.

Going away to college for the first time can be an exciting yet intimidating time in a person's life. There is so much planning that goes into selecting a college and making sure that finances are in good shape that one often forgets about the actual room they will be living in for the next year. Yes, the college dorm room is not only the center of studying, but also the den of social interaction. At one moment you may be using it to cram for your history exam, and the next you will be using it to host a party with some of your closest friends.

While everyone knows about the basic items needed for a college dorm room, such as microwaves and refrigerators, there are plenty of things that can add some extra flavor to your new home. Do you want your space to be the talk of the campus? Do you want the rest of your floor to be envious of you and your roommate? Try a few of the following, and you'll be amazed how you can maximize your space while also giving your room some additional flair.

Add Color to Walls with Photos and Posters

When I was in college, the first thing that stood out to us as we moved in was how barren the walls of our room were. In some colleges, you may end up with white-colored cinder block walls. In others, you may be lucky enough to have insulated walls with a better paint job. In any case, one of the first things you will want to do after unpacking your bags is to get some photos or posters up on the walls.

Before taking this step, be sure that you identify your college's rules on how to hang pictures and posters. Some schools are pretty strict on not allowing nails or tacks in order to hang things up. In many cases, you may be forced to use a special type of putty that will hold the poster/photo in place. The goal is to decorate the walls without damaging the walls because trust me you will end up paying for damages later.

When it comes to photos, I found that having a good selection of photos from home were good conversation starters with my new friends in college. You don't want to post anything too juvenile because you're beyond that now, but you do want to put up things that will help people understand more about you. The photos can also lead people to want to ask more about your background. Feel free to get creative with the layout around the room. Some people create photo collages and hang them around the room, while others stick with traditional frames spaced around their desk.

Another easy way to spice up the dorm room is to locate posters and hang them up around the room. I've always been partial to framed posters because they give off a more refined look and they keep the edges of the poster from tearing over time. However, if you don't have the time or money to frame them, feel free to hang them up any way possible.

Your posters should be something interesting that will make your room memorable. A poster of the latest Playmate might look cool to the other guys on your floor, but is that really going to impress the women that you bring back to your room? And that latest Star Wars movie poster? Is it attracting visitors or pushing them away? Figure out what works best for you, and find something original. Nobody wants their walls to look exactly the same as everyone else in their dorm.

Maximize Your Space with Lofts and Crates

No matter what college you go to, your dorm room is most likely going to be a lot smaller than the room you left at home. Chances are you are still going to try bringing way more stuff than you should during your freshman year. In order to make your dorm room as comfortable as possible, you are going to have to find ways to maximize the limited space that you have.

One way of doing this is by using a bed loft frame. Not every college allows this, but they are great space savers if you are able to use them. I have to admit, I haven't seen many guys that have these, but times may be changing. If not, then make it work for you the best way you know how. The frames themselves help to raise the bed mattress further off the floor so that there is extra storage space underneath your bed. If you have the right kinds of plastic storage bins, you can store some of your clothes comfortably underneath your bed leaving your closet free from clutter.

Another object that I found useful was an empty milk crate. Usually the local stores would have a few sitting outside waiting to be disposed of, or the store owners would gladly give them away if asked politely. They may take a little bit of spray paint to match the rest of your decor, but they end up being great stackable storage for everything from clothes to books.

Relax Your Eyes With Natural Lighting

Lighting is another huge adjustment that you will have to make when you move into your dorm room. Many of the halls have overhead florescent lighting which over time can lead to head aches and eye strain. Nothing is worse than a fluorescent light that continually flickers when you are trying to do something important. Not to mention, some nights you may just want to relax with your lights dimmed instead of on full blast.

For times like these, I suggest having at least one lamp capable of giving off some natural light. The lamp can either have one setting or have a built in dimmer whichever fits your preference. Halogen lamps used to be popular for this type of lights, but became dangerous due to the amount of heat they gave off in the process. Don't be surprised if your college bans the use of halogens on campus. Keep this in mind before you spend money on them at the store before the school year starts.

Lamps are another thing that can demonstrate your personality. There are a variety of colors, shapes, and lamp shades to choose from. Pick the one that sets you apart from the crowd and starts conversation. It's the little things that show off how unique you are compared to the rest of the college crowd. It may seem awkward in the beginning to be different, but by the time you graduate you'll be glad that you set yourself apart.

Bring the Noise With a Sound System

The final piece of the puzzle is the sound system. A room just isn't a room without some way of producing some music. Whether you are studying or just hanging out with friends, you are going to want some way of playing music in the background.

I found that the shelf systems produced the best sounds without taking too much space within the room. Nowadays most of them are equipped so that Ipods, smartphones, and other MP3 players can be plugged into them eliminating the need to burn CDs. Find something with a remote so that you can lay back in bed at night and control your tunes without having to get up.

All in all, it doesn't take a ton to make your dorm room come to life. Start with those areas and work from there. Check out what your friends have done and find ways to work your own flavor into it. By the time the year ends, you'll be sad to take down all of your hard work.

Are you a current college freshman or recent high school graduate wondering what it takes to survive in college? Former college students are often filled with words of wisdom that can help you avoid many of the mistakes they made and put you on the road to success after graduation.

A few weeks ago it dawned on me that my girlfriend's daughter would be graduating from high school and starting her newest journey as a college freshman in the Fall. This set my mind on a whirlwind of old memories and experiences that I had during my college years, some positive and others negative. Luckily, I had an older sister that was able to give me advice before I even started college, and I was still able to call on her for help once I started school. It made me wonder how many people head off to college for the first time and have nobody to lean on for important answers and guidance.

As a result of this, I had planned to write a book for my girlfriend's daughter before she headed off to school. I was going to include little lessons and things to consider for when she got on campus. Then I figured it would be fun to get advice from a wide variety of my friends and family who had also been in college at some point in their lives. The wide array of pointers would cover areas that I may not have had to experience myself, and provide a bigger selection of life lessons than I could do on my own.

This article is a compilation of a few of those tips that I received from my friends and family. I hope that they are as helpful to other students as they were to me when I was in your shoes.

Academic Advice

  • Go to class: Ultimately, you are in school to learn and get your degree. As hard as it may be to wake up on your own without your parents pushing you out of bed, find a way to go to as many of your classes as possible. Take good notes because you tend to remember more information when you have already written it down once. Don't miss out on a great experience by failing to handle your business in the classroom. 
  • Cut class at least once a semester: I know it sounds stupid coming right after the tip advising you to go to class, but life is all about having a little bit of balance. I only advise you to do this once because excessive absences are the kiss of death in college. And if you do skip, make sure that one of your friends is in class to take notes for you. Skip days only get harder when you hit the real world, so you better take advantage of a few now. 
  • Take your easiest classes during your first two years: This may be debated depending on who you ask. I usually think this is easier because most people are not prepared for difficult college courses right after graduating from high school. It takes a moment to learn how to study and to perfect a good college writing style. It may be easier to ease your way into these things in order to prevent yourself from getting discouraged. Not to mention, it can also help to pad your GPA early on and give you opportunities at scholarships that may be available on campus. 
  • Wait as long as possible to choose a major: Do this if you can because chances are that you are going to change your mind quite a few times. Not many of us went to college knowing exactly what we wanted to be, and those of us that did usually switched to something else before they graduated. Of course there are certain programs that you have to start right away (engineering, pre-med, etc), and if that is you then I just wish you the best from the start.

College Social Life Advice

  • Drink in moderation: It's going to be real easy to get caught up in drinking and partying. By all means have a good time, but know what your limits are. You do not want to be the person that ends up getting wasted and ruining a good time for your friends. You also do not want to be the person to develop a drinking or drug problem that has to go to rehab instead of graduation. Just be careful and know how much liquor you can handle. And trust me, it's never cool to drink so much that you end up throwing up or blacking out. 
  • Know your surroundings and have a good reliable group of friends to hang out with: In the cases where you do end up drinking until you are puking or you do black out at the club, you are going to want to have good friends to watch your back and take care of you. Always let them know if you are planning on leaving a party or bar early or with someone else, and just keep an eye on each other while drinking. There are just too many bad people out there to try doing this stuff on your own nowadays. 
  • Date freely: College is the best time to find out what you like about yourself and what you like in other people. There is no other time in your life when the dating pool will be so large. You don't have to commit yourself to anyone right away. Just have a good time and who knows what may come of it. And of course if dating freely leads into doing other things freely, be safe.

Overall Advice

  • Remember why you are in college: During the first couple of semesters, it is going to be so easy to get caught up in the amount of freedom that you suddenly have. While this is a great life lesson in itself, it can also be the recipe for disaster if you fail to maintain your studies. Do not lose sight of your goals, and definitely do not let others pull you away from your dreams and aspirations just because they may not be on the same path. 
  • Take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to you: This could range from internships to teaching assistantships to community service projects. The best way to grow as a person and meet new people is to get involved in new things. You will find that most of the people that truly enjoy college are the ones that have made connections within their campus community. Once you graduate depending on where you live, it may not be as easy to find a group of people with similar interests as you have. 
  • Study abroad if you have the chance: In the real world, people would kill for a chance to spend a week in another country. When you are in college, you may have the chance to spend a semester or even a full year in another country. Find out what the requirements are, and if you are interested then go for it. Yet another example of what could be a once in a lifetime experience that you will not want to miss out on. 
  • Try something new: This pertains to activities, food, and meeting new people. If you wanted to be the same person and talk to the same people, you would just stay at home after high school. College is a place where you can expand your comfort zones and be exposed to people that may have grown up in different cultures than you are used to. Embrace this opportunity to grow as a person, and you won't regret it. By the time you graduate, people will notice the difference in you and you'll be happy that you opened up your mind to new things.

The Best Years of Your Life

Finally, the ultimate piece of advice that I can give is to enjoy each year to the fullest. You will find that each year goes by faster than the one before it, and before you know it the real world will be knocking at your door. Don't just be in such a hurry to graduate that you lose sight of all the fun experiences around you. You don't want to have regret for anything when it is all over.

My sister wanted me to leave you with one final piece of wisdom. Don't go to law school. I will just save that post for another day. Good luck in school...

Do you wake up every day expecting bad things? Do you find yourself ranting about everything instead of just holding normal conversations? Is it hard to remember the last time you just sat back and smiled about something in your life?

If you said yes to any of these, you may be stuck with a negative outlook on the world around you.

Hopefully the majority of you don't have to worry about this, but for some of you this could be a wake up call. The good thing is it's never too late to become a more positive person. Read on to find out how...

"Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one." — Hans Selye

Stop Making Excuses for Your Behavior

Stop being in denial! If people are constantly avoiding you or telling you that you need to cheer up, you may want to start listening to them. While you might think you're a ray of sunshine, you may actually be the cloud that other people don't want to be around.

One of the hardest things to do is look in the mirror and truly accept the fact that we may be the root cause of our own unhappiness. There may have been events that got you to this point, but maybe you chose to hold on to the negative emotions for too long.

If that's the case, don't sit back and make excuses for why you're so negative. Get up and do something about it!

Surround Yourself with Positive People

The saying "misery loves company" can be so true sometimes. How many times have you been in a bad mood and you ended up spending time with another person in a bad mood? Very rarely do both people end up feeling any happier.

I'm not saying that you have to cut negative people out of your life completely, but you may want to limit your exposure to them when you are feeling your worst.

Find ways to get involved in the community around you. Maybe doing a service project with a local group will bring that spark back into your life. It's possible that just playing a game of Ultimate Frisbee with friends will be enough to turn things around for you.

Whatever works for you, just make it happen. Get around positive people and watch how quickly their mood starts to rub off on you!

Take Notice of the Good Things Around You

When I was younger, I bought a book called Peace Is Every Step written by a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. In it, he described ways to become more mindful of the peace that surrounds us even in the most stressful situations.

Whether it be a beautiful sunrise, a child's laughter, or even the way the wind feels against your face, there are always positive things going on around you. You just have to open yourself up enough to be aware that they are going on.

The next time you feel your mood dropping, take a deep breath and focus on all the happiness around you.

Realize that Bad Things Happen

So much of negative thought has to do with our expectations heading into certain situations. If we go into them hoping for good outcomes but realizing that bad ones are possible, it is so much easier to move on with our lives if something doesn't go according to plan.

When we go into a situation only expecting the worst to happen, the worst is usually what we end up receiving. Rather than ending up in a downward spiral, try wiping the slate clean after a bad event. Just because something went wrong once, doesn't mean it will go wrong every time.

Make the Choice to Be Positive

Ultimately, becoming a more positive person is a personal choice. At the end of the day, we can either make a decision to uplift ourselves and those around us or try to drag ourselves through the mud one step at a time.

That choice may seem obvious to many of us throughout the course of the day, but for some it can be difficult. Hopefully some of the steps above can help to turn their situation around.

What things do you do on a daily basis to stay on a positive note?

Do you know someone who just became a new driver? Remember what it was like to start driving on your own for the first time?

This gift guide is devoted to gifts for new drivers. The suggestions below are a great way to congratulate your new driver for their achievement while also reminding them to be safe on the road. The prices vary for each item, and there are a few that may even bring about some laughs. They are all guaranteed to be useful,and you may even find yourself buying a few items for your own car.

Enjoy the gift guide and feel free to offer any suggestions you may have at the end of the page.

1. ResQMe Car Escape Tool

Unfortunately, there are times when we may need to exit our vehicle quickly due to accident or emergency. If the door is jammed or windows nonoperational, it can be a hopeless and very scary feeling. The ResQMe escape tool is made to smash out a car's side windows with a mere 12 pounds of force. In certain situations, this can be the difference in life and death.

The tool is also able to cut through seat belts if needed, and is small enough to hang from a key-chain. The tool has been trusted by policemen, firemen, and EMTs for years. Don't let your new driver leave home without one either!

2. Garmin Nuvi 5-Inch GPS Unit

Every driver has dealt with getting lost in an unfamiliar environment. This can be especially hard for new drivers because almost everywhere is a new environment. Having to take their eyes off the road to look for side roads and directions can lead to accidents and possible moving violations.

The Garmin Nuvi is the perfect solution to this problem. Its 5-inch touchscreen is large enough to view while driving, and it is also aided by vocal turn by turn directions. The GPS comes loaded with maps of the United States and some of the Caribbean, and for slightly more unlimited map updates can be included.

Rest assured your new driver is getting to the right place with this GPS.

3. Jump-N-Carry Jump Starter

I can tell you firsthand that having a dead battery in the winter, or any season, is no fun. Trying to find someone to help jump your car is even less fun. And depending on your set of jumper cables, actually jumping the car can be the worst.

The Jump-N-Carry is portable enough to carry in your own car. It carries a charge long enough for you to feel secure that it will work if needed. It also allows you to give your own car a charge without having to track down another motorist willing to help out. And if it happens to be dark outside, the jump starter also comes with a built in flashlight.

4. GoGroove FlexSmart X2

There are still quite a few cars out there without direct connections for your telephone or mp3 players. That leaves you with a phone full of music and no way of listening to it while you are in the car. With the FlexSmart X2 by GoGroove, you can transmit your music from your music device through your radio.

It also allows you to charge your phone at the same time in case you are worried about the battery drain it may experience while playing music on long drives. As if this wasn't enough, the FlexSmart X2 also lets you take hands-free calls through its bluetooth connection.

*Compatible with iPhones, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone

5. New Driver Parking Sign

It took a while, but your new driver finally earned their own parking spot. This parking sign will let the world know who that spot is reserved for. Guaranteed to bring a few laughs unless you're the owner of the car that gets caught "illegally parking" in the spot.

6. White Fuzzy Car Dice

Although not as popular now as in the past, fuzzy dice are still a great way to christen a new car. They add character, color, and a touch of good luck over the car. For those seeking more than just white dice with black polka dots, they also come in a variety of colors and styles. Pick the ones that showcase your personality and toss them on your rear view mirror!

7. RoadPro Accident Report Kit

Hopefully your new driver will never end up in a car accident, but just in case they do this accident kit by RoadPro is a great gift to have. In addition to the accident report that can be filled out before any details are forgotten, it also comes with a disposable camera to record any damage to the cars involved.

The kit is portable enough to fit in your glove compartment, and your insurance company is sure to appreciate the additional details it provides after the accident.

8. The Driving Book

Even the most experienced drivers know that there are still tons of scenarios new drivers have yet to face after passing their driver's test.

The Driving Book is a great supplement for new drivers to have on hand when they hit the road. The book includes chapters on essential items in the car, maintenance, driving in bad weather, driving in the city/country, driving with pets, and much more.

If you buy any driving book for a novice driver, this should be the one.

9. Travel Angel Visor Clip

"Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly."

No matter what your religious background is, the message on this travel guardian angel applies. You may find yourself wanting to buy one of these for every driver you know as a gentle reminder that excessive speed can be fatal. The message is simple and reminds us all that cars can be dangerous when driven recklessly.

10. Car Reverse Backup Radar/Alarm

My sister would have died to have this gift when she was learning how to drive. She is still nervous about backing out of tight spaces in her car. I'm sure many of you know people that feel the same.

This car reverse radar comes with 4 sensors that detect other vehicles, objects, and people in the immediate area. Not only will it prevent car accidents, but it will also keep small children safer around the car. The kit requires simple installation, and allows you to color the sensors to match the color of your car. The benefits of having the unit are priceless.