A Smooth Financial Transition Into College
The first year of college is one of the most overwhelming periods in any person’s life. Overnight, sheltered young adults become completely liberated from their parents, teachers, coaches, and siblings and begin the grown-up phase of existence. Although this newfound independence is exciting, pitfalls abound that force us to to adopt a level of responsibility proportionate to our freedom.
Our sense of adventure tends to cloud the issue. Secondary education is a huge business in this country and as a recent high-school graduate, many entities are looking at you as the prime, vulnerable prey that you are. Because of this, thousands of students get into a number of different economic predicaments that could have been avoided had they used a bit of fiscal sense.
Remember, you’re an adult now, and you’re no longer on a leash. Keep these tips in mind if you don’t want to get flattened in the crossroads of maturation.
Tuition Is Real
Although our standards may be lacking, we’re lucky to live in a country where every young person is given the opportunity to earn a free public education. College, however, is a different story, as even the most affordable options, such as community/junior colleges, still charge tuition in the $1,000s. Tack on the costs of textbooks, housing, and food, and suddenly you’re looking at some major expenditures.
Your secondary education is one of the most important and expensive investments you will ever make, so plan accordingly. Be sure to fill out your FAFSA on time every year and carefully review your payment options with your parents. Maybe they’re able to help financially and maybe they’re not, but either way, these decisions should not be taken lightly, and your parents likely have some personal experience and quality insight into helping you plan your tuition-related finances for the next 4-5 years.
Student Loans Can Be Dangerous
Take advantage of grants and scholarships, but approach student loans cautiously. There are dozens of predatory private lenders who predicate their business models on impulsive, irresponsible young spenders looking to supplement their income with “Free Money.” Student loans recently topped credit cards as the #1 form of debt in America, with the average graduate owing nearly $30,000 – and that doesn’t include individuals who didn’t earn their degree.
These aren’t fictional loans our young people are receiving; every cent will need to be repaid – usually at absurdly high interest rates that make it impossible to even chip away at the capitol. Therefore, if you do take out loans, make sure that you are using them for their intended purpose (tuition, books, etc.) rather than ancillary costs like a night of drinking or fast food; there's no sense paying interest on a late night delivery from Domino's for the next 25 years.
It’s tempting to take the easy route and take advantage of these massive payouts, but they could cripple your financial future whether you become a neurosurgeon or a kindergarten teacher. Do your research, discuss the matter with your parents, spend the money you do borrow wisely, and never sign anything under pressure.
Choose Employment Wisely
Working in college can be a bit of a catch-22. Students feel compelled to work to offset the costs related to their education, but they often spread themselves too thin, which can lead to poor performance in the classroom. Your number one priority should always be your schoolwork. You’re investing a great deal of money in your future, and it would be a shame not to maximize that investment by learning as much as possible and getting good grades.
The key is finding a viable equilibrium. One good rule of thumb is that you should be attending class and studying at about a 3:1 ratio. This means that if you are devoting about 15 hours per week to classroom instruction and another 15 hours spent studying and doing homework, you’d be left with about 10 hours for work, which adds up to a 40-hour workweek – a good benchmark for introduction into the adult world.
If you must work, most schools offer really good programs on campus working in the registrar’s office, as hospitality staff for school-sponsored events, or as part of the maintenance team. These departments usually put a cap on the number of hours you are allowed to work to ensure quality academic performance. There’s no point in working yourself to the bone for an extra $100 per week if the education that you are paying so much for is going to suffer as a result.
Build A Budget And Stick To It
Building a budget can be difficult for all of us, especially young people, which is why it’s something that is often talked about but rarely adhered to or even created in the first place. Although a little annoying to set up initially, having a budget can save you a lot of stress and financial difficulty. Thankfully, there are a lot of easy-to-use templates scattered throughout the Internet that make setting and keeping a budget fairly simple.
When you set out creating your budget, make sure that you err on the side of caution. You probably know exactly how much your tuition and rent will cost each month, but other bills, like groceries, utilities, and car costs, will likely vary. Therefore, it’s smart to add an additional 15-25% for fluctuating bills.
Also, college students have a tendency to spend a significant portion of their disposable income on fast food, coffee, and alcohol – all items that can add up quickly if not monitored and kept in check. Pay very close attention to these costs and remember that while college can be a time for fun, the ultimate goal is to receive the best possible education.
Don’t Mortgage Your Future On The Present
College can be as dangerous as it is beneficial if young people don’t approach it with a degree of caution and common sense. So many students get into hot water by partying too much, attending class too little, and not budgeting their expenses properly. It all comes down to priorities. Formulate a plan for your tuition; discuss possible student loans with your folks, your school advisors, and/or a financial planner; find a nice balance between work and academics, and build a budget with a slight cushion for potential overspending. If you do these things, you should be able to leave school with a great degree, a lifetime of memories, and manageable debt.