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Published on USA TODAY College Oct. 10, 2012.

By Marissa Cetin

How does that adage go? “The best things in life are free.”

Virgin Mobile FreeFest celebrated its fourth year at the venue-in-a-forest Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md. on Oct. 6. Tickets to the one-day festival are available completely free or by donation to help homeless youth via Virgin Unite, The RE*Generation and Sasha Bruce Youthwork.

The packed lineup spanned diverse genres and decades: rock ‘n’ roll’s Edward Scissorhands Jack White; EDM’s wub-wubbin’ golden child Skrillex; recently reunited The Dismemberment Plan and Ben Folds Five; futuristic stylings brought to you by dance queen Santigold and sax solo-loving, dream-pop M83; Americana blues rock from the past and present with ZZ Top and Alabama Shakes; more electro-dance DJs than your fists could pump; controversial comeback rapper Nas; and, if you can believe it, more.

The variety lends to the best part of going to a festival; exploring acts outside of your go-to Spotify playlist is all but a requirement, especially if it’s all available for free. With a lineup that puts Jack White’s smoldering set to end 30 minutes before Skrillex drops his final beat, it is impossible not to be curious and check out literally what all the raving is about. When else will you get the chance to get a taste of the loud, bass-filled mind of Skrillex and join in that flailing-of-limbs ritual known as dancing for free? Take advantage of the opportunity to experience acts that you’d never consider spending money on for a standard gig.

Although the day was about the music, the hipster-carnival vibe left much room for activities if, for some reason, enjoying free live music wasn’t your thing. Festivals, of course, showcase the talent, but all of the other happenings can make or break the event.

Freebies galore, tents were set up all around Merriweather for local venues, organizations and brands to reach out to the young crowd. The ground-level proved too suffocating for some, who sought space on the festival’s ferris wheel decorated with the Virgin Mobile logo, overlooking the 40-acre venue and in earshot of the West Stage. During The Dismemberment Plan’s set, frontman Travis Morrison shouted out to Merriweather’s tallest attendees. And taking a nap in the grass is always an option.

The main takeaway from FreeFest: Jump on any opportunity you have to see free live music. Universities often bring in acts, big and small, to put on shows for students. Last year at American University, its student government brought the soulful John Legend to perform in the fall, and its student-run online radio station WVAU hosted a gig with Baltimore experimental electronica extraordinaire Dan Deacon, all for free.

If contemporary soul or layered electro-indie aren’t in your top Last.fm scrobbles, does it matter? You’re not shelling out cash for the ticket. Worst case scenario: You leave 10 minutes in and you don’t lose any money. The best: You stumble upon your new favorite artist to soundtrack your study sessions for the next month. The middle: You have a good night, for free.

Did I mention free?

Published Oct. 9, 2012 on USA TODAY College.

It’s Facebook official: After years of suspecting college admissions officers’ decisions are influenced by what a Google search may turn up, Kaplan Test Prep released results of a 2012 survey that prospective students might not “Like.”

The survey, which polled 350 college admissions officers from the nation’s 500 top colleges and universities, found that the content officers find on social networking sites leads to increasingly negative views of applicants.

The percentage of admissions officers who searched Google and Facebook increased slightly from last year to 27% and 26%, respectively, but the number of searches that turned up something that soured the officers’ attitudes jumped from 12% to 35%.

The offenses include: plagiarism, vulgar blog posts, photos catching underage drinking, “things that made them ‘wonder’” and “illegal activities.”

“The traditional application — the essays, the letters of recommendation — represent the polished version of an applicant, while often what’s found online is a rawer version of that applicant,” Jeff Olson, vice president of data science at Kaplan Test Prep, said in a press release.

“We’re seeing a growing cultural ubiquity in social media use, plus a generation that’s grown up with a very fluid sense of privacy norms,” Olson said. “In the face of all these trends, the rise in discovery of digital dirty laundry is inevitable.”

Published Sept. 28, 2012 on The Vinyl District.

The pristine Music Center Strathmore took a break from its typically orchestral stylings with energetic synth-rock courtesy of Metric on September 21.

The night had a slow start, opening with low-tempo tracks from the Canadian group’s latest release Synthetica. But once “Help, I’m Alive” off 2009‘s Fantasies kicked in, the sold out crowd was on their feet.

The venue itself put Metric in an odd spot. The Strathmore was built for musical performances; the room’s acoustics were impeccable, not that seasoned performing pros Emily Haines & Co. needed the boost. Yet the clean, light-wooded, seated Music Center felt too mint and bright for the gritty, infectious electro-rock which all but requires mimicking Haines’ constant jumping and trashing.

Then again, Metric sold-out the almost 2,000 seat venue so the space’s size was necessary, especially considering the band’s history with D.C. and their affection for the 9:30 Club.

Haines didn’t seem to mind the less-than-cozy venue. “It was quite emotional,” Haines shared of first walking onto the Strathmore stage during soundcheck. “It’s exquisite in here.” Out-of-place or not, she was certainly right on that.

The extended encore was easily the best part of the evening, but the highlight of the regular set was the bass-driven banger “Dead Disco” which Metric drew-out with a toned down interlude that crashed back into the catchy-as-hell chorus.

The six-song encore opened with “Black Sheep” which showed the “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” version by Brie Larson that the original is always best. Opening band Half Moon Run joined the headliners onstage for a beautiful rendition of The Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes.” “I really enjoyed that,” Haines smiled after the song’s end, to which the audience cheered in concurrence.

An acoustic “Gimme Sympathy” ended the encore, with the percussionists returning to stage and clapping in singing along. After a night of heavy electric guitars and bass, flashing neon lights and constant jumping, the stripped down closing songs were an unexpected and lovely way to cap the show.

“I feel like this is a really great way to spend the night,” Haines summed up. Indeed it was.