Possibly unlike your own country, where computers may only be beginning to catch up in the home and office-user segment, and are predominantly used by techno-nerds and computer magazine writers, etc., when you enter the US you would be surprised by the extent to which they are used there. You will soon learn to accept that your term papers have to be written on a computer and some colleges like Drexel University have a compulsory requirement that each new student must possess an Apple computer.
If you have taken any courses such as at NIIT or Aptech, they will help boost your chances for campus employment and open up more job opportunities. Most of you belonging to the current generation, who has grown up with MTV, Nintendo games and computers in college, will easily accept this fact. However, if you are one of the rare minorities who are still computer illiterate, then taking a crash course in word processing and environments like Windows would help greatly. Short one to two-week courses are offered by Apple, NIIT, etc. and taking one at home is a more cost-saving option than taking it in the US.
Computers with on-screen editing, electronic spell-checking and a built-in thesaurus have made typewriters obsolete. The choice is no longer between using a computer and not using one. It’s whether you own one or use someone else’s. It is almost always better NOT to carry your own computer with you since the same money will fetch a more powerful and more state-of-the- art machine in the US than it will in any other Asian country.
“How adequate is my present computer?”
If you own a Pentium-based IBM clone with an HP LaserJet III, you may skip this section. You have reached the state-of-the-art. If you haven’t, but are quite satisfied with your computer’s capabilities and don’t plan on a very technical major, it may not make much sense to switch, except in cases like the Apple lie owner who having bought his computer for more than the price of a car, discovered to his dismay that its disks simply couldn’t be read by any of the IBM or Macintosh family computers which together account for over 90 per cent of computers used in most academic settings all over the world today. So, if your computer is not a Mac or an IBM compatible, you could run into problems later on. This is something you’ll have to weigh against the cost of buying a new computer.
Typically, students use three types of printers: dot-matrix, ink-jet and laser. All three are available for both Macs and IBM compatibles. Dot- matrix is an older technology than the other two, but ’24-pin’ dot-matrix printers which have a finger print quality than the outdated ‘9- pin’ printers, are still a good option. Dot- matrix printers are the least expensive to maintain and buy. In overall print quality, however, they rank last.
The Epson LQ-570 is a high- quality dot-matrix printer for IBMs. Ink-jet is the fastest-growing in popularity of the three classes. These printers are slightly more expensive than dot-matrix ones but the print quality is much better. Hewlett Packard’s Desk Jet 500 for the IBM and DeskWriter for the Mac are popular, low-cost ink-jet printers. Laser printers are the most expensive of the three. Nothing is as good, economical and inexpensive to run as a 9-pin dot-matrix, and a classical printer such as an LX800 from Epson will be the best choice.
The same costs $150 in the US and Rs. 9,000/- in India. So it’s better to buy one there instead. The same holds for laser printers. The ones costing Rs. 40,000/- here sell for $600 in the US.
Computer facilities on campus
Many colleges offer easily accessible computer facilities in the dormitories or libraries. For the student on a tight budget, it pays to investigate. See if your school has adequate facilities. A computer center in the dorm may be ideal for the non-owner. Call the housing office once you have received your assignment and ask – about computer availability. Even if you buy one, it’s nice to have a back-up as close as the basement. Make sure that there are enough facilities to accommodate a good number of students. Come term paper time, you don’t want to find yourself at the old-fashioned typewriter because all the terminals are booked.
Which computers are most popular on campus?
Although few schools will dictate which type of computer students should use, certain brands usually emerge as the most popular. Dartmouth and Stanford, for example, are Mac schools. Amherst is an IBM school. There are numerous advantages of owning a computer which is the campus-favorite. Students with incompatible systems find themselves with few colleagues on campus to swap software with. And in case of a computer breakdown, the number of compatible systems accessible would be limited.
“Does my major require a special computer?”
Engineering, Computer Science and Economics students may have special computer requirements whereas English and Anthropology majors may need only word processors. Check the standards specified by your department before buying.
“Are used computers a reasonable alternative?”
Used systems of recognised brand names (IBM, Compaq, AST, and Macintosh) are usually good buys. For a nominal fee they can be checked out for internal damage by local computer- repair facilities. Obscure brands may not be easily serviceable and are not worth the risk. Check newspaper ads for good deals on used computers and new ones as well.
“Where should I buy a new computer?”
As with any electronic equipment, you have to shop around to find the best computer deals. Visit your local computer stores. Scan the newspaper for prices of new computers and the classifieds for used hardware. Many college bookstores offer special student discounts on computers.
Definitely check out these prices before taking the plunge. Some students buy a new computer in preparation for college only to find they could have found a much better deal had they shopped on campus. Mail-order purchases may save you a few bucks and sales tax but is sure to investigate the company before buying. The best mail-order firms will ship replacements overnight in case of problems and provide 24-hour phone support. The best of these companies are DELL and Gateway 2000 whose prices are possibly the lowest in the world for retail branded computers.
Use and abuse of computers
Save your work every ten minutes
The computer doesn’t permanently record your work until you tell it to. Till then your paper is at the mercy of the local power company. Many of the newer word processors and even some shareware word processors like the classical PC Write offer an auto-save function to automatically save your work without your asking it to, every five or ten minutes.
Keep your computer in a cool place and away from food
Computers located too close to a vent or radiator may decide to take the day off due to heat exhaustion. Soda pop, milk and beer have also contributed too many a system’s downfall. Magnets are a bad idea too. Keep them far away from your computer and floppy disks.
Take your software along
Software is very expensive in the US, so better take a copy of your favorite software if you don’t want to buy it for hundreds of dollars. If your conscience does not permit you to do that, then you can go in for some good cheap shareware software which you can get for about $2 a disk and familiarize yourself with the software.
Don’t wait until you have to submit your first paper to discover that you haven’t a clue on how to run a word processor. Computers can save loads of time if you know how to use them. Some programs have built-in training systems. Classes on various aspects of computer use are available at most schools. MS Office 95 should serve most of your computing needs as an integrated package for Windows.
Acquire a computer guru
You know who they are those students who never lose their papers, whose mega-machines seem to take up an entire room. There is no magic involved these guys really know what they’re doing and they’re usually glad to help you out of a computer bind.
Befriend your computer
The only thing you have to fear is fear itself, quipped Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Had Frank no political ambitions, he could well have been a computer programmer! Don’t let that little glowing screen become an adversary. If you plan correctly, the computer can become your most useful tool at college next to your brain.
You are going to spend your years in college and zillions of nights peering into the glowing computer screen, so better make a good friend of it. Several good introductory computer books are available in low-cost reprints in Asia. Get a few.