Saturday, September 15, 2012

College Guide to Making Financially Savvy Decisions

Lately, I've taken a closer look at my finances and the woes of adulthood. It drives me crazy, because although I am so blessed in many ways, I am still a struggling college student/borderline adult and bills always stress me out. On Twitter, I went into a mini-rant about how bills complicate life, but a lot of it is really the consequences foolish choices I made early on. Because I was in such a rush to grow up, there are a lot of things I had to learn the hard way. Based on those lessons from hard knock academy, I decided to do a column, especially dedicated to the young adults who are new to the college experience and haven't quite reached independent status yet, of small, yet practical ways to avoid some of the major mistakes I made when it comes to my finances.

1. If you aren't offered a full scholarship to an out of state school, stay in state.
 If staying at mom's house is an option for at least the first 2 years, do that too. Stay as far away from loans as possible. As a high school senior, this might seem like an awful suggestion initially, but it will lessen the burden in the long run, especially if your family household income cannot support out-of-state tuition. Even if they could, attending an in state school would save them a lot of money. The most important thing is an education. If you really hate the idea of staying home, do lots-and I mean 3-5 hours a week-of research to find scholarships.  Money that you don't have to pay back is available to you! Also, another suggestion I would make is to attend a community college for 2 years, obtain an associates degree, and transfer to a bigger school. A lot of students do this to test run the collegiate experience, raise their gpa and increase chances of getting into a school of their choice, and various other reasons. There is no need to rush; independence will come and you'd wish you didn't.

2. Once you've settle in college life, take this time to seriously evaluate yourself, discover your passions, and find your niche.
It's okay to have fun, but there is a bigger picture to consider when entering college. Believe it or not, college is not only designed to increase  and tone skills, but also for students to have multiple options and learning opportunities.  Freshman and sophomore year are implemented to set a foundation.  During these two years, many different prerequisite classes are available that challenge the way you think and test your strengths and weaknesses.  It's set up that way so that by the third year, the student had ample time to declare a major that will lead to career that is profitable and one they enjoy.  Build on what you find so that by the time junior year rolls around, you already understand what you want post-graduation.

3. Start working on a master plan to profit from what you love...NOW!
Compose three list; the first list is answering basic questions like: 'what do you like to do in your free time? What are you passionate about?  What could you do for the rest of your life and never get tired of doing?  The second list is the things you are good at.  The last should be a list of courses that appeal to your interest.  Maybe you like to dance and would consider being a choreographer.  Maybe you enjoy medicine and science.  Maybe you like to help others in positive ways, so something like teaching and politics appeals to you. Perhaps there is a sports program you are interested it.  Narrow this list down to what is offered at your school and go over it with an advisor. After meeting with a staff member in advisement, ask them to help you develop a career map. Over time, allow that plan to be reviewed and revised by counselors, mentors, and higher classified peers. Don't wait until senior year to decide what to do with your life.

4. Save money and spend wisely.
The best part about living at home while in school is the opportunity to work and save the money you would be spending if you were to live off campus. The best part about living on campus is the amenities offered, such as meal plan and transportation, so you don't have to come out of pocket for necessity. Take advantage of on campus activities from time to time, instead of going out and spending money every weekend. If you are away or have a heavy load of credit hours and/or are holding a part time job, find a [legal] side hustle. Get creative! I knew a girl who would type papers for a reasonable fee.  Another girl did hair on the weekends. There are even job opportunities offered on campus. Calculate your earnings, create a spending plan, and put aside a fixed amount per paycheck to put into a savings account. This money is not to be touched until you are done with school. If you earn extra, use that money to start paying off any student loans you may have. Making financially smart decisions will benefit you so much more in the long run than a brand new pair of shoes.

5. Make smart investments.
Investing is by far the most genius way to circulate and maximize your earnings. Rather than saving for four years and blow it all on something tangible, find a business network to invest in, even if it's your own. You've worked too hard for it to not, at that point, work for you. Make smart investments with the help of a legal financial adviser and accountant. This is what separates the rich from the wealthy.

6. Gain real world experience.
College, in all it's glory, is a huge safety net. Being book smart is wonderful, but it's just as important to learn outside of the classroom as it is to learn inside the classroom. The main thing employers look at nowadays is how much experience a potential employee has under their belt.  This helps them determine what contributions you can make to that particular company Find time during the summer months to participate in internships that suit individual interest; use that time to become knowledgeable about the company, how it pertains to your interest, and collect contacts.  When the summer is over, send a thank you letter for the opportunity and continue to network with them until it's time to graduate.  This can open so many doors that would've stayed closed because of lack of initiative.

Hopefully, this guide was helpful.  I look forward to doing more college guides in the future  If you have a topic you'd like for me to cover, feel free to email/tweet me and to find how, simply click the 'CONTACT' tab above; I'm always open to suggestions.

@ChymereA
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