Monday, August 2, 2010

LegalMBAyhem's Guide to [Getting Settled and Keeping Yourself Alive in] Charlottesville

One year ago at this moment (as I start to write this during my lunch break on Monday...probably not when it finally gets posted), I was sitting in the Pantops DMV for the second time in three hours.  Little did I know that it would take two more trips to finally get my license, title, and registration squared away...but that is another story for another time.  The point is, the first few days of August mark the time during which most Darden and UVa Law graduate students move to Charlottesville.  Their next two weeks are filled with unpacking, buying furniture, getting VA drivers' licenses, acclimating to new roommates, and preparing for Orientation.  Then school starts and your life is sucked away from you consumed by academic pursuits and school-related social events.   MissMBA recently offered some great advice for incoming b-school students, and I can't profess to be any sort of expert on the law school experience yet, but since I have lived in Charlottesville full-time for the last 12 months, I can claim some personal expertise on getting settled and keeping yourself alive in the Cville area.  I can also offer some personal tips and tricks for things that took me (in many cases) a disturbingly long time to realize/learn after I got here. 

Getting settled
I'll leave the actual moving logistics up to each individual person.  That totally depends on how much stuff you have, whence you are coming, and where you are living in town.  But, once you've gotten to Cville and picked up your keys, here are some tips for other things:
1.) If you haven't moved in yet (as of reading this), make sure you do things like set up an appt. to get your cable set up, putting electricity in your name, etc. BEFORE you get here.  Obviously, who your service providers are will vary by location (e.g., you have no choice in cable if you live in Ivy Gardens), but since everyone and their mother is moving to Cville in August, you'll want to try to get a jumpstart on getting on the schedule as soon as you can.  Note that if you have not previously had utilities in your name, the local utility companies may require a deposit from you.  It can be difficult to talk your way out of this if you can't get some sort of reference letter from a prior utility provider, so be sure to plan ahead. 
Useful links:
Dominion Virginia Power
Century Link (formerly Embarq)
2.) I highly recommend taking a good bit of time before you move to set up a forwarding order from your old address with the post office, to change all of your address information with your credit card companies/banks, etc.  When you set up a forwarding order with the USPS, they will send you a confirmation of your mailing address change - to both the new and old address.  KEEP THIS DOCUMENT.  It will make your life so much easier when you go to the DMV as you won't have to bring your lease (which may or may not have an actual street address on it, as I learned the hard way) or wait to get a bank statement to show residency. 
Useful links:
USPS Change of Address
3.) Don't forget to get renter's insurance (or change the insured property with your existing insurer)!  The student budget at UVa includes renter's insurance, many leases require you to have it, and it's just plain smart to have it, in my opinion.  Since money will be tight, take some time to shop around if you haven't in a while.  Make sure you ask about things like multi-policy discounts, alumni association discounts, professional network discounts, good student discounts, etc.  It's up to you whether you choose to do all of this online or with a live agent in town, but don't forget to do it! 
4.) If you have a car, make sure you get any necessary parking stickers from your landlord, management company, or the city (if necessary).  The last think you want is to get towed (and it does happen every year)!  Also, there is generally a parking waiver at Darden (and they claim at the law school) for most of August, but the lines at the Parking & Transportation Office toward the end of the month/waiver period can get to be truly ridiculous.  Decide if it's worth it to you to pay for a little bit more of the month (while the waiver is in effect) in exchange for your sanity, and just go before Orientation starts. 
5.) The DMV in most states is pretty horrific, but VA takes the cake in my opinion.  Double and triple-check the list of documents you need to bring, and plan to spend several hours there.  If it takes less time, you'll be thrilled, and if it takes as long as it usually does, at least you planned appropriately.  Also, I recommend going and getting a VA inspection (you can do it at many gas/service stations on 29 or 250) BEFORE you go to the DMV.  Then that's done.  I love the folks at the Goodyear on 29 (by Starbucks and Jiffy Lube, just south of Rio Rd and across from the Fashion Square Mall). 
Useful links:
Virginia DMV

Keeping yourself alive
1.) Try to get any and all possible doctor's appointments out of the way before Orientation starts.  You'll thank me later.  Despite all your efforts to be organized, I promise you that you will have something else pressing to do if you think you can schedule an eye exam for, say, 2 pm on October 5.  Because UVa has a medical school and teaching hospital, there are some really good doctors around.  Check out the DocFind for Aetna if you are on the UVa student plan, or check with your independent insurance company to see who accepts your plan locally.  Health Services is OK for things like sinus infections and flu shots, but I haven't had a great experience trying to get routine care from them, and if you need a specialist, you'll have to do that on your own anyway.  Plus, you can't get into Elson until school starts anyway if you haven't paid the summer fee.  Also, transfer your prescriptions from your old pharmacy NOW.  CVS is the most convenient to school, but Kroger, Walmart, Sam's Club, and Target all have generic programs that can significantly reduce your co-pays (and the line at CVS - even if you've pre-ordered a refill online - is frequently a 20+ minute ordeal).
2.)  Take an hour to drive (or walk) around and pick up take-out menus from places near school or your apartment.  You'll want to have these later (yes, many of them are online, but it really is easier to have a folder at home).  I'll be publishing LegalMBAyhem's Guide to Charlottesville Dining later this week, but figure out what is on your way home from school if you drive, and you'll be a much happier camper. 
3.)  If you want to avoid frequent take-out and think Lean Cuisines start tasting like rubber after the first or second one you eat a week, spend an afternoon preparing some of your favorite dishes.  Make 4-6 servings and then portion them out into single-serving containers to freeze.  This way, you can throw one serving in the microwave and you're only 5-6 minutes away from home-made deliciousness any crazy day.  I've found that pasta dishes (lasagna, penne with vodka sauce, etc.), saucy stir-fry dishes with rice, and many curry dishes with rice actually freeze pretty well.  The key is to make things that have enough moisture in them to help re-hydrate your starches when you microwave them, so think about adding some extra sauce relative to what you would usually make.  Red meat (beyond ground beef) can be the most tricky ingredient because it doesn't always re-heat terribly well. 
4.) Similarly to above, take some time to go to the grocery store and stock up on pantry items and other things you can prepare quickly.  I'm not saying you should live on ramen noodles (the amount of sodium in those seasoning packets is far too high!), but you'll want to have some things on-hand.   At Darden at least, there's also a lot of free food in September - first coffee, briefings, cocktails, etc.  - that can make menu-planning a challenge.  If you throw some chicken in the freezer and invest in some frozen veggies (they even freeze diced onion and peppers these days), you can whip up something homemade pretty easily without a special trip to the store if you find you have the time to do so....and you won't end up throwing out a bunch of fresh stuff you bought and then never had time to cook.
5.) Familiarize yourself with the locations of the nearest dry cleaner, ATM for your bank, the cheapest gas (I think Kroger off of Hydraulic and Sam's Club are the consistently the cheapest by far), FedEx (Barracks), the UPS Store (on 29 by Hydraulic), and the post office (Barracks and the main branch on 29 - note that the main branch accepts overnight mailings until much later in the afternoon than the Barracks branch).   Generally scope out the area and learn the lay of the land before you need something last minute and don't know where it is.
6.) If you need a new interview suit, a dress for a wedding in October, etc., go find those things now, while you have (maybe) some extra cash and some free time.  There are some nice stores (Banana Republic, White House Black Market, etc.) and boutiques in Charlottesville but not a ton, and the mall leaves a little bit to be desired at times.  However, the Leesburg and Williamsburg outlets are each about 2 hours away.  Go now!  If you're a Darden student, make sure you have a pretty solid business casual wardrobe, and if you're female, you'll want a couple good 100% cotton sundresses (that silky dress lining stuff that seems to be on virtually every nice sundress I owned before getting here is MISERABLE during August, September, and most of October) and a nice cocktail dress for Darden prom. 
7.) Do a little bit of sight-seeing.  Hit up Monticello or Ash Lawn-Highland!  Explore Richmond or DC if you aren't from this area!  Visit a winery!  Check out my posts here (at the bottom) and here to see what I've done with guests recently.  Put together a list of things you want to do (with information and websites and whatnot) that you can consult without spending a lot of time if you have friends or family visiting from out of town.
8.) Take some time to make sure all of your personal paperwork and information is organized and neatly filed before you start school.  I'm talking bank statements (if you still get paper copies), old paystubs, copies of last year's taxes, any medical records you may have, insurance documents, financial aid materials, copies of written recommendations from prior employers, etc.  Basically anything you may need to consult at some point in the next 9 months and don't want to waste precious time scrambling around finding.  It may seem silly now, but it could be super-helpful later.  If you did this before you moved, good for you.  If you just threw everything in a box that you plan to stash in a corner of your new apartment, go back and read the last three sentences again. 
9.) Try to get in the habit of going to the gym as soon as North Grounds will let you in (or start taking a regular run/bike).  If you don't make this a part of your routine very early, it becomes much, much more easy to justify never doing it.  I think I went to North Grounds a total of 5 times all year.  Not good, folks, not good. 
10.) Get sleep.  I know you'll want to go out and meet people and check out the local bars at the Corner, but don't start the school year sleep deprived.  Honestly.  Just don't.

Naturally, you don't have to take my advice on the above, and I'm sure other folks have different advice entirely.  However, I learned a lot of this the hard way, and if I can keep anyone else from making the same mistake(s) I did, I'll consider it my good deed of the day.  UVa also has a Graduate Guide that can be helpful (but I find it kind of hit or miss).  If you have specific questions or concerns, don't hesitate to email me at  Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. This comment isn't specific to this post, but I wanted to say hello! I'm so excited to find another female JD/MBA blogger and look forward to following your posts.