Common Sense Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to College
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It’s the end of July, which means that in a few weeks there will be an influx of new students going to college. I could not find a specific number as to how many will be starting college this year, but I did find that 21.6 million students were enrolled in a college or university in 2012. We can surmise off of those numbers that there are likely at least several million students will be going to college for the first time this year.
Stop and think about that for a second. Millions of teenagers are about to face new challenges, especially if they’re away from home, and will likely encounter some growing pains. Even though it is has been WAY too many years since I first started college I look back at some of the mistakes I made, and see how the years have added a certain level of common sense that I wish I could instill in my younger self. With that said, I have come up with a number of things I wish I knew before I started going to college, but I’d love for you to add to the list in the comments as my list is certainly not meant to be exhaustive in nature.
Student Loans/Credit Cards
As I’ve written before, I discovered credit cards while in college and graduated with roughly $25,000 in credit card debt. If you’re on campus and offered a “free” T-shirt or water bottle, my suggestion is that it’s not worth it. If you do want/need a credit card then I’d suggest one with a very low credit limit. That way you’re able to start to establish a credit history while also not opening yourself to too much risk.
On-campus housing is often as much as tuition, if not more. This was the case at the school I attended and while I made some lifelong friends as a result, ask yourself if the cost is worth it. If you’re going to a larger college then it’s likely there are a number of options for off campus housing. Investigate those options if you’re going to college and find some roommates. That alone has the potential of saving thousands of dollars off your overall bill.
Go to Class!
Ok, I know this should be a given, but I shudder as I think back to how many classes I missed. The older version of me wants to shake the other silly as that was simply money thrown out the window. I know that it may be tempting to skip class, but I doubt many Dean’s List students skip class regularly.
This sort of goes back to my last point, but I think it deserved its own section. Are you not a morning person? If not, then booking yourself with 8:00 am classes every morning may not be the best choice for you. By learning more about yourself you’ll set yourself up for success and thus be more effective when going to college.
Student loans are free money, right?! I hate to break it to you, but they’re not. If you do find yourself needing to take on loans, then only take what you need to cover expenses and not beyond that. That extra $1,000 for the semester might seem like nothing, but added up each semester can mean serious money. Politely turn down that extra money to the financial aid department and get a part-time job instead and you’ll be happy you did.
Take Advantage of Your Career Center
If you’re going to college, then it is somewhat of a safe assumption that you have a plan for your life after college. As you advance in your years in college, help yourself by becoming a frequent user of your campus’ career center. Many offer mock interviews, sessions to help build resumes, and help with internships. In my opinion, the career center is one of the most underutilized buildings on a college campus. I know that I did not use it enough, and I still regret that.
Don’t go to Grow Up
Many students go to college to grow up or to find themselves. I understand that to a certain point. I also think it’s natural to do so, to a certain extent at that stage of life. However, viewing it the main reason behind going to college is a very expensive endeavor. Do yourself a favor and balance the self-discovery out with coursework that leads to a practical, employable end and you’ll help yourself in the long run.
Learn From Your Failures
I HATE failing and I always have. It’s probably because of the embarrassment aspect, but as I grow older I see failure as a great learning opportunity. You’ll likely make mistakes while going to college so capitalize on them by turning every failure into a learning opportunity. Failures can provide invaluable insight to you that will only help you not make the same mistake again.
Beer Can Be a Drag on the Budget
I know, another no-brainer! I shudder to think of how much I spent on beer while going to college. Unfortunately, beer is not free (unless you have very wealthy friends) and does cost money. Do yourself a favor and drink within reason.
Mrs. Frugal Rules likes to tell me about how surprisingly difficult it was to make connections in college. She remembers flyers being taped to the sidewalks because so many students walked around with their noses stuck in books. She tried club sports, intramurals, wilderness activities, got a job on campus and eventually joined a sorority. She learned that clubs and on-campus activities can help you get the most out of your college experience.
Going to College is Fun, Enjoy it
I look back on my years attending college and they were some of the best years of my life. I made lifelong friends and had a blast. Remember that amidst all the hard work and all-nighters to allow yourself to enjoy it a little as well. You’ll never get that time back, so why wouldn’t you want to enjoy it?
What is something you wish you knew before you started going to college? What did I miss?
Photo courtesy of: Tax Credits
John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.
Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.
Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.