Four Things You’ll Wish You Learned in College

It’s often said that college is one of the best experiences you’ll ever have, but people often ignore the aftermath: student loan and credit card debt. Rather than telling you to abstain from all the fun, yet pricy activities that college has to offer, the following points focus more on how to minimize the financial impact of college while still managing to live it up during these golden years:

There Are Cheaper Alternatives

Taking out tens of thousands of dollars for an education at a four-year, private university no longer seems like a preferable option in light of the student loan crisis. Sure, private unis have more personalized instruction, smaller campuses, and better amenities, but is it worth hinging your future finances on the prospect of landing a well-paying job immediately after graduation?

Community college and four-year state schools have their own share of problems—impacted majors, less financial aid, large classes, etc.—but your tuition bill will be lower and thus, your chances of paying off student loans within a reasonable time frame will be higher. Of course, this is a broad generalization and can’t be applied to all circumstances, but it’s worth keeping your options open.

Economic Theory Classes Aren’t Enough

Learning about the boom and bust cycles is definitely a must for any college student, but that doesn’t mean an Economics 101 class will sufficiently prepare you for the real world. What about managing investments, preparing for retirement, or even basic information about credit card usage? Personal finance plays a major role in everyone’s lives, and yet you don’t see this class in most schools’ general education requirements. If it’s offered as an elective, take it. It may seem like a dry subject, but this simple foundational class could save you from financial troubles later on in life.

Saving Habits Shouldn’t Disappear in Freshman Year

Your parents may have given you an allowance when you were a kid, presumably to teach you the wonderful concept of working for money. Unfortunately, many freshmen throw these early lessons out the window when they arrive on campus, preferring to spend their money on food, entertainment, or spring break trips. Some students even use financial aid (meant for tuition and books!) on electronics and vacations.

College may be the “best years of your life” but that’s no excuse to go broke with the mentality that you’ll have a well-paying job in the near future that can pay off all the debt you’re accruing. But frugality to the point of stinginess is no fun, either. Instead, aim for a balance: keep your spending to a reasonable level and try to put away some money each month in case of emergencies. If you need help with organization, Mint offers great software and mobile apps to keep your finances in check. It’d be useful to check out other ways to save money, such as Sumo Coupon for saving on everyday purchases or Student Universe to help you lessen the costs of travel. Every little bit counts, and you don’t need to survive on a ramen diet to do it.

Sometimes, a Degree Is Not Enough

College used to be a gateway to a good career with a steady income and solid benefits. Nowadays, companies hiring new employees tend to expect potential applicants to have a degree, rather than looking more favorably upon those who have one over those who do not. Basically: college degrees aren’t as valuable as they once were, though the financial investment required to get one seems to contradict this statement.

With the playing field more level, you need to go above and beyond the basic expectation of a college education and build up your resume as much as you can before you go out into the “real world.” Try internships, volunteering opportunities, entrepreneurial ventures, or part time jobs (on campus, if businesses in your local area aren’t big on hiring right now). All of these can set you apart from other applicants and even though it will cut into your sleeping/socializing/studying time, you’ll eventually be glad you partook in these activities.

4 Responses to Four Things You’ll Wish You Learned in College

  1. Michelle says:

    Great tips! W is about to go back to college and I am a little nervous :)

  2. Making sure you don’t spend like crazy in college is key. Graduating with a ton of debt is a huge burden!

  3. Good advice for a college student. Back when I went to college, I knew how much money I had from the GI Bill (about $15,000) and budgeted so that it would last for 4 years. I also worked at the college’s tutorial center to earn spending money. We expect our son, who is now only 12, to also work for spending money when he gets older.

  4. dojo says:

    If your job doesn’t depend on the college you graduated from (say you want to be a lawyer and maybe Harvard would be the best pick), I don’t see why a ‘regular’ college wouldn’t be good. If you are a good student and study hard, what matters is to know your stuff and be good to hire. And, unfortunately, just having a degree is not the solution anymore. I know many graduates who can barely land a job, so you need more skills and involvement today than ever.

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