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Work & School A freshman’s guide to gadgets, apps, and the internet

Mar. 5, 2019
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Illustration by Hannah Kang

I like to sit in the back of the lecture hall so other people won’t make fun of me when my screen turns red after I get a question wrong on Kahoot.

I’m pretty notorious for constantly using my phone and laptop. On one hand, this is good; my friends know to worry when I don’t text back within minutes. But I also often find myself knee-deep in technology in social situations—browsing Instagram and the latest online sales—instead of socializing or listening in class.

If you’re heading to college, you’re probably considering what you might need for your classes. Maybe you’re even contemplating trading in your old laptop and buying yourself a new one with a student discount. I did exactly that—I handed over my graduation money and got myself a MacBook Pro.

I am currently using the 2017 version of the MacBook Pro without the touch bar, and in all honesty, I regret my choice. I only need my laptop to carry out simple tasks: doing homework, writing articles, editing videos, and creating graphic designs. While that is a wide variety of work, it all could have been done on a lower-scale laptop at a notably cheaper price.

Most college classes allow students to use a computer when it comes to taking notes. I really recommend saving these on your iCloud or Google Drive. These programs allow you to access your notes from other devices, so you can study on the bus or train, or even right before an exam. This is also super helpful when I’m on spontaneous library trips and I don’t have my laptop with me. Having had extremely bad luck with electronics (read: cracked screens, water damage, broken batteries), I’ve learned to protect my work and constantly back up my documents in case anything happens. 

A quick tip for people who pride themselves in taking well-organized notes: you can sell them! I personally love organizing, color-coding, and adding photos to my notes, so this was a no-brainer for me when I first heard about it. In the Netherlands, we use Stuvia. I earn around 30 extra dollars a week just by uploading my notes. For American readers, Nexus Notes is pretty similar. If you’re not a seller and instead want to buy notes, these sites are perfect because they comes with reviews, and they have a 100% money-back guarantee to prevent students from being scammed.

Another website that helps with surviving freshman year is Quizlet, which I touched upon in a previous installment. You can quickly search the title of your course on Quizlet and see if people from past years have created flashcards on it. I also use Kahoot when I’m reviewing with my friends, because the adrenaline rush of winning and losing really helps us remember concepts. 

If English isn’t your first language and you struggle with grammar like me, Grammarly is a great way to see grammatical errors and suggestions as you go. It’s free, and it really helps with tweaking minor grammatical errors and spelling mistakes when you’re trying to power your way through a deadline. Even though normally your professors won’t deduct points for grammatical errors, it’s better to have your work checked in Grammarly for basic mistakes.

Although technology has allowed for tremendous accessibility and educational advantages, I still find it to be pretty distracting. It’s so easy to simply Google a movie that was referenced in class and end up poring through Reese Witherspoon’s filmography. If you’re anything like me, putting your phone on airplane mode or leaving it at home altogether might be a smart way to resist opening WhatsApp to talk to your friends about the latest episode of Dynasty.

Still a freshman,

Wen Hsiao