Who doesn't make mistakes in college?
College is a time of learning, and not only academics. Some lessons are learned firsthand. For instance, balancing a hectic schedule, and prioritizing academics over friends (sometimes). However, there are certain lessons that now, looking back, I wish someone had told me.
College Mistakes You Can Avoid
1. AVOID...Not having a paycheck besides the refund check.
For two and a half years of college, I was employed. My first year, I took advantage of a work study program (which is a great idea by the way). If you have the opportunity to do work study, I highly recommend it. Oftentimes, work study jobs are on campus, making them convenient. They are often flexible with your college schedule, too.
Depending solely on a refund check is not so beneficial. I won't lie, it was helpful. I used a good portion of it to pay for textbooks, but, the extra money was also a reason not to work as hard as I would have. A regular paycheck could have covered living expenses. If I had rejected the "extra" money, my debt would not be as high. Remember, this is still borrowed money, meaning that at some point, you will have to repay it. Now, I have that much more debt to pay. Ugh.
2. AVOID....Taking classes you don't need to take.
If you can get college credits early (i.e. AP classes in high school), or for cheap (at www.clep.collegeboard.org), I would advise that you do so. One college class can cost a lot of money (like $800, give or take some). Clep (the link above), is a GREAT resource I wish I had discovered in my college days. Unfortunately, I missed that bus, and I took all of my required courses the expensive way. Clep gives you the opportunity to earn college credits for taking and passing classes online, at a significantly cheaper rate. There are certain limitations and regulations, so do make sure that your college will accept the credits before enrolling in a class.
3. If you're a notetaker, BE a notetaker.
Being a notetaker in college can earn you rewards. I was able to earn credit toward my textbooks. Again, I was late to discover this, and had I known sooner, I could have been earning $50 toward textbooks, per class!
The duties are not all that difficult, either. Simply take notes (no extra work for avid notetakers), then copy and send them in. Plus! It's extra motivation to get to class (especially for those early mornings/late night-three-hour-long ones).
4. Learn to cook
All around, this is a crucial life skill. Learning to cook will save you money. I was shocked (although I probably shouldn't have been) at the crazy amount of money Americans spend on eating out - almost $1K per year. The benefits of eating out are having someone else cook your food for you, and paying more money for that service. Whether or not it can be justified, I like to think that having the ability to meal plan, understand the basics of cooking, and prepare a healthy homemade meal, is useful.
Living on campus, this is a bit of a challenge, where a kitchen and cookware aren't always accessible. For living on campus, I found that a mini fridge and a microwave can go a long way. Meal plans at school are quite costly, so having some ability to make easy meals can save you money.
Living off campus means you likely have access to a kitchen and cookware. You can save yourself a lot of money, and significantly cut back on your school meal plan (if you choose to get one at all). Cooking at home will save you from having to buy expensive meals on-the-go. Thinking and planning ahead for your schedule can really help.
5. Not deciding on a major soon enough.
This is a difficult one to avoid. Making a life decision, and choosing a firm career path at 18 or 19 years old is not easy. I had trouble deciding exactly what I wanted to do, so I changed my major a few times. Not only did it waste time in my schedule, but it also wasted money. After switching, I discovered I had taken classes I otherwise wouldn't have needed. I learned that college is not the place to experiment with career choices.
If you're unsure of what major to choose, or you're choosing just for the sake of choosing, I would suggest a few things, first:
(1) Research careers. If you're not sure, test out the waters. See if the career is something you would like or be good at. Talk to professionals in the field, job shadow, hang out at the office, ask questions. Then figure out, is this right for you?
(2) Consider all options. Don't think about just the money, or just the prospects in the field. Consider what you might love to do, what your strengths are, and where you can see yourself in the future. These considerations will give you a stronger basis for making a decision, not just money.
(3) Talk to someone. Career counselors are great, and can be very helpful in getting you on the right track. If you need some guidance, or want help in figuring out what you might like or be good at, talk to a career professional!
Being smart with money often requires you to take your finances into your own hands. If you have questions about managing your money in college, get in touch! @YoungFreeME on Twitter and Instagram, Young & Free Maine on FB, or Spokester@youngfreemaine.com