Why hello there college student!
First, it is absolutely awesome that you are thinking about personal finances now! Oh, you weren’t, you say? You just stumbled across this here humble blog on accident? Well, my first piece of advice to you is (shameless self promotion and plug) bookmark 80/20 Your Finances and sign up for our newsletter. 🙂
The second piece of advice for college students is that you, yes, you, need to care about personal finances now.
Why You Should Care About Personal Finances
When I say you should care, I don’t mean you should care about whether you have enough money for both beer and pizza this weekend. Although a valid concern, I want you to think bigger. That’s why you are in college after all, right?
Let’s talk long-term finances. I know, you are already tired of thinking about student loans. But there is more to your personal finances as a college student than just student loans.
Avoid Credit Card Debt
Sure, you can end up with a six figure student loan debt load. So why not worry about adding a few thousand in credit card debt, right?
Did you know that student loan interest is often deductible? Hopefully not for long because you’ll be making so much money that you won’t qualify for the deduction on your income taxes. But at least for a little while.
Did you know that credit card interest is not deductible? Yep, see already how student loans are better than credit card debt?
And let’s be honest here – student loans are an “acceptable” form of debt to many people. Credit card debt is not. (I use acceptable in quotes. We all know that debt is bad but at least you are hopefully leveraging that debt into more income. Thus acceptable although you should work now to minimize it and later to pay it off.)
Anyways, let’s not run up credit card debt while you are in school. Be that broke college student. It’s a character building experience. You can thank me later.
It’s a Great Time to Learn to Budget
While you have only a few moving pieces, college is a great time to learn to budget. And what better incentive than that football game next weekend? Or the post-game parties? So let’s learn how to make sure your food is covered and you can splurge a little on that cover fee for the band. Or the pizza. Or the beer. Maybe, gasp, even the good beer!
Get More Scholarships and Grants
Did you know that there are a lot of scholarships and grants that are not widely publicized? Some are just for upper classmen.
To find out about these hidden scholarships, make friends with the faculty in your major and with the staff in the financial aid office. Both the heads of departments and the financial aid office know of scholarships that go ungranted, sometimes for years at a time. If you become friends with these people, they will let you know what’s available.
And this is not a one-time, stop in the office and say hi. They may not have something right away. But you want them to think of you first thing if a new opportunity comes in. Make sure that you check in with them every couple of weeks. But not so often that you become that annoying little creature that they feel like they have to dodge.
Don’t forget to keep your grades up! Many scholarships are GPA dependent. Not only will you lose out on opportunities going forward if you have a low GPA, you may lose current scholarships. And wouldn’t that just be the pits?
Look for On-Campus Jobs
While I was in school, I worked as a teaching assistant and as a tutor (official, through the school). These typically pay above minimum wage, but you won’t be getting rich off these jobs. But they make for great spending money. And often, you will go periods where you are on the clock but don’t actually have to do work. Just sitting in an office, getting paid to do your own studying! Win-win!
These jobs also look pretty good on a resume. Public speaking, working with others, leadership, ability to convey tough concepts in easier to understand bites. These are important soft-skills that employers look for. Communication is such a critical skill to learn but it is so lacking in our education system (yes, even college). Find ways to develop these skills and even more awesome if you get paid for developing the skills.
Some on-campus jobs have other benefits. Consider being a Resident Advisor (RA) where you live in the freshmen dorms as an upper classman. These positions often come with a stipend (cash money baby!) as well as a lower or free housing, helping to reduce the amount you need in student loans. Being a research assistant can put you on the forefront of your field of study. And wouldn’t that be awesome on a resume!
Internships and Co-Ops are Awesome
Sure, off-campus internships and co-ops are great resume builders and provide you with some much needed cash. In fact, they often pay much better than on-campus jobs. But you know what I think the absolute best thing about these jobs are? You can find out if you actually want to work in your major.
Yep, you may find out after working in a company for a couple of months that the work is just horrible. It may look all great to be an engineer but ugh, who wants to do that all day? (No offense to engineers, I could have used accounting as an example.) Find out if you actually want to do this work going forward. If not, you still have some time to work out a different plan. Perhaps a new major or a new path forward. Much better to take an extra year in college now, working on a new major, than being miserable for the rest of your working career.
And if you need to take some time off from school to figure out what you want to do when you grow up, don’t feel pressured to keep going to classes for a job you’ll hate. It’s ok to take some time off. Travel the world. Volunteer. Get a job. Find yourself. It’s all good.
PS Start looking for internships now. Freshmen? Yep, you too can look for an internship. You may not get an internship right away, but you’ll get practice with interviewing and developing your resume. And you never know when you’ll get a call back from them a year later, when you have more experience. The earlier you start looking, the more opportunities you’ll have. And that means you can keep looking for the perfect fit for your future career.
Treat School Like a Job
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard about college is that you need to treat your classes like a job.
A 40 hour a week job. *groan*
I know, it is such a bummer. But your job right now is to go to class, get good grades and graduate. If you are taking the typical 12-15 hours this semester, you need to be spending the other 25-28 hours doing labs, recitations, and studying. That’s going to be about 5 hours a week per class of work outside of class. Do your reading. Do your homework. Study for exams. If needed, go find some tutors or attend professors’ office hours.
If you put in the time, you will pass. And with good grades. So you can get a good job when you graduate.
And you’ll have an easier time when it comes time to transition to the real world. Build your habits and your work ethic now, which will serve you well as you move forward.
Have Some Fun and Make Great Friends
College isn’t all about work and no play. The motto here, especially while you are young and have all the energy (how I envy you), is to work hard, play hard. Find some great people and make life-long friendships.
And yes, even these friendships are about personal finance. You are starting your network now. People in your classes may be the person to refer a job to you down the line. Isn’t it awesome that you met them in college? All because of that roadtrip you took to an away football game!
True story here – I complained about a certain aspect of my job on Facebook. A guy I went on a roadtrip with piped up and said “by the way, that’s what I do” and within weeks, he was hired at my company with a referral from me. You never know where the next job will come from. I didn’t know him before the roadtrip yet several years later he became a co-worker in my company.
Warning About Social Media
In the day and age of social media, remember that everything you post and everything you do may one day be seen by an employer or a client. Don’t ruin your chances now by doing something stupid now. Sure, opinions are changing about pictures with alcohol and certain young person indiscretions. But there are certain things that no matter what you do will always follow you around. You’ve heard it before, so I won’t go into a long lecture. Just know that it is out there.
Part of the “work hard, play hard” mentality for any college student should include a potential study abroad semester. Most schools will have multiple opportunities for a period spent studying somewhere else. These are unique experiences to travel and learn about other cultures. And the friendships you make on those trips can be some of the deepest friendships you’ll ever make. Because what can compare to the bonding experience of struggling to navigate a foreign culture in a foreign language? Yep, friends for life!
Take Care of Your Health
Your health is your number one asset. Take care of your body now so that you can be a money generating fool for years to come.
You have access to some great workout facilities. Use them. Get in shape now while your metabolism is high enough that you can drop those extra pounds. It’ll never be this easy to lose weight, trust me. Working out is also a great stress reliever from difficult classes and during exam times. A much better option than eating your feelings. Or drinking them. Learn great coping mechanisms now to help you for decades to come.
For many of you, college may be the first time living in such a communal environment. Learn how to keep your space clean and how to ward off sickness. And yes, those shower slippers are needed for a reason. Eeewww, foot fungus.
Finally, on the topic of your health, I’m not here to give you a lesson in Sex Ed. That’s another blog for another time. But do know that most (all?) campuses have a health center where you can get birth control and condoms and what not. Take advantage of them. Also, campus health centers are great for cheap or free physical check-ups, flu shots, and urgent care. If you need mental health services, many campus health centers have trained and licensed psychiatrists on staff. They will be highly in tune with the needs specific and common to college students. Use them if you need them, there is no shame there.
Fellow college graduates, share your advice for college students below!
It’s been awhile since I went to college. Yep, I’m no longer a “Young Alumni” according to my undergraduate institution. So maybe there are some things I didn’t think about. Please share your advice for college students in the comments below!