Tips I Wish I’d Known When Paying for College

Nervous about wracking up student debt? So was I. Here are a few hints on dodging some of those university fees.

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Have you ever been poor enough to turn down getting a Frosty at Wendy’s with your friends? Have you ever been to college? Then you know what I’m talking about.

Walking over the well-kept lawns of campus my first day at school (and seeing they had money to spare for lawn care), I wish I’d known how I could keep them from squeezing every last penny out of me. My parents had wrangled three older siblings through college, so they knew enough to get me there, but not enough about campus life to help when I arrived.

I battled my way through and learned my own life lessons. I made some mistakes, though. Mistakes I wish I’d been warned about.

That’s why incoming freshman should take heed to my advice and see if it moves them. You’ll likely end college with over $30,000 in debt, but let’s keep it from advancing any further.

Don’t Buy Textbooks

I’m serious! Wait until after the first week of class to see if you’ll even use them. Most instructors list textbooks that will be no better than paperweights on your desk.

If you get the syllabus and see you’ll only be using the book a couple times that semester, ask to borrow from a friend, see if you can find it online, or put a hold on the text at the library. Check Facebook to see if there’s a textbook selling group for your university, and put out a request there. Whatever you do, don’t go to the university store and pay full price.

You Don’t Have to Go to a Private University

Employers spend less than a minute skimming your resume. How much time do you think they’re spending looking up your university’s ratings? How much do you want to bet they don’t even lend it enough time to give in conscious thought? They just want to see that it’s on there.

Community colleges drastically lower tuition for in-state students. It’s not glamorous or adventurous to go local, but it means you can be more glamorous and adventurous once college ends and you’re debt-free.

Private universities are losing their muster, anyway. With the recent high-profile college scandals, and with college degrees becoming ubiquitous, there’s not as much prestige going into a private university.

Food Plans Are Overrated

I added inches to my waistline from a college food plan, and I guess that’s my biggest beef. But also, it’s not cost effective. The food plan gave me about $13 a day for my meals. If I’d planned my meals and gone grocery shopping, the bill could’ve been way lower.

Even if you’re in a food desert, it might be cheaper to hail an Uber to take you to the grocery store, buy groceries there, then load up and ride back. Do the math and see if that’s an alternative.

Know Where to Get Your Loans

If you have to use private loans, shop around for loans and find ones with low interest rates and fast repayment plans. Federal loans are always better than private, but if you’re going for a private loan, get a cosigner so you can choose ones with low rates.

Alternatively, build a good credit history before school so you’re ready to apply for private loans on your own. If you have good credit, it’s easier to find more flexible loans.

Plan Your Four-Year Strategy

I transferred universities only to learn that none of my credits qualified at my new school. Don’t be like me: choose a school and stick to it, map your academic career semester by semester, and optimize your plan with credits that apply to two or more graduation requirements.

You want to get the most out of your schooling, but an extra semester can mean an extra $8,000. For that price, you could hire an expert tutor to take you on as a private apprentice in your field.

What I’m saying is don’t dilly-dally. Research your major thoroughly before hand. Frankly, I was apathetic toward my major by the end. I wanted to switch. But I stuck to it because employers care about your experience, not the degree, and I had my experience in my field of choice.

If there’s anything you can take away from this advice, it’s that you should plan ahead and plan effectively. Universities are trying to sell you more product, so you have to know how to deliver a firm no and understand when enough is enough. Create an exit strategy like college will be an awkward party where you don’t know anyone — that’s kind of what it is anyway.

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