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What Many College Students Regret, Myself Included

Apr 4, 2013

Your undergrad years are just four short years of your life and, financially, they couldn’t come at a worse time. I went to university during the tail end of the dot com bubble, well before people were cautious of spending or going into serious debt. It wasn’t until I was nearly finished with graduate school that the recession kicked in. However, even if your generation (or your children’s) is more conservative than mine, there are some things you can learn from me and my student loan debt.

While you may have sampled this in high school, keeping up with the Jones’s starts in college. You want to have grown-up furniture, the good dorm or even off-campus housing, a car for road trips and copious amounts of cash for the endless parties. You can do this either by working a full-time job, which is neither fun nor reasonable, or by taking out a student loans. College students aren’t stupid, but it really does feel like free money at the time. After all, you can easily pay it back once you land that lucrative job post-graduation, right?

Choose the Right Circles

It’s ridiculous to ask an 18-year-old to not care what their new friends think. However, once you start taking out student loans it’s hard to stop. Ideally, you and your parents have been saving faithfully for many years, but what happens if you find yourself at university and that just didn’t happen? Sometimes student loans are unavoidable. The key is to never take out more than you absolutely need.

If you’re using your loans on anything besides tuition, it’s time to reevaluate your situation. Do you and your roommates really need to go in on your own in-dorm beauty indulgences, or can you take advantage of the top notch exercise spas at the rec center and in town? If you surround yourself with frugal-minded people, it’s much easier to resist careless spending.

Learn to Need Less

When I was an undergrad, many of my friends (with whom I’m no longer in contact) only wore Seven jeans, designer perfume and many bought their first brand-new car. I’m not sure of their exact financial situation, but I certainly couldn’t afford that. However, I wanted to fit in so I needlessly spent and I’m paying for it now to the tune of $80,000 (although that includes grad school). The fact is that no college student actually needs designer clothes, costly perfume or a brand-new car.

Who are you trying to impress? Learn to eat both healthy and cheap by cooking yourself, going to discount stores and checking out farmers markets. Scour Craigslist and local thrift shops for furniture. When it comes time for entertainment, there are usually plenty of free or low-cost options around your campus.

Re-Thinking Those 4 Years

Depending on the degree you plan to pursue and the caliber of university you’ve earned admission to, try to take as many classes at the community college as possible. Many universities have agreements with local community colleges, making credits easily transferable. There’s no reason to pay four times as much for the exact same class, sometimes taught by the same professor.

It’s also crucial to make sure you know exactly what kind of money you can make with the degree you choose. Don’t just have a vague idea, have a solid one. In my opinion there’s no such thing as a useless degree, but sometimes you have to get creative. Those four years will fly by; what happens afterward?

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