The cost of higher education is rising every year leaving many students in debt before they begin their first job. First-generation students, like me, enter college without learning how to balance a budget, manage finances, and save money. Looking back, I made a lot of poor financial decisions that added to the amount of debt I accumulated after college. Some of the financial mistakes I wish I didn’t make in college include:
I had two cars during my college years (one was totaled in an accident). I needed a car but I didn’t need to get an expensive and gas guzzler car. My car also came with additional expenses I didn’t expect like car insurance, registration, gas, and parking.
Other things I bought that I now regretted include a TV, an organ, and a bunch of random items that I don’t even remember getting. When first moved to Hawaii for college, I brought two luggages and one box. When I graduated, I had 10+ boxes of random stuff not including all the appliances I accumulated such as a TV and mini-fridge. Part of the reason why I spent so much is that I didn’t have a limited budget compared to when I was in high school. This led me to become a bit of a shopaholic. This habit stopped after a few years and I rarely buy on impulse anymore but all these expenses have definitely added to my debt today.
Went to school out-of-state
I had to worry about living expenses, health insurance, housing, and transportation especially during the summer. I would’ve saved thousands of dollars in housing and tuition staying at a college close to home but I wanted to live somewhere else. Unfortunately, I did not think about how much money I needed to stay here until I actually got here. Thinking back on this, I wish I attended community college for my first two years than transferred to the university since classes were smaller and tuition was lower.
Changed my major multiple times
It is ok to be undecided for a semester or two while you are trying to figure out what you want as a career. After all, college is about figuring out who you are. However, there comes a point when you are spending too much time and money deciding your major and future career. I changed my major at least 4 times in college. There were a lot of courses that I spent a lot of time and money on because I was pursuing various fields I thought I was interested in. Fortunately for me, I had a great academic advisor. She made sure I was completing the other general education requirements while I was exploring my options so that I still graduated in four years.
Did not take advantage of the free resources on campus
One year, I got a 24-hour Fitness gym membership even though there was free use of the gym on campus. There were workshops, tutoring, and resources I didn’t use that could’ve helped me with my grades (I hate you, organic chemistry!) that were all paid with my tuition and fees. All the academic and student support was there for me but I only used about 10% of it. I also didn’t take advantage of the career center until a month after I graduated!
Got additional debt
For the summer, I applied and received additional student loans to help me pay for summer school and housing instead of applying for scholarships or going back home. I didn’t need to stay in Hawaii but I wanted to. I also took out a credit card to help me pay for my living expenses for a summer study abroad program instead of applying for additional funding. Because of this, I actually accumulated more debt during my summer semesters than during the regular semesters! I did not do a good job of budgeting for my summer expenses.
Did not actively apply to additional scholarships while in school
I knew I needed more money but I didn’t seek out more funding during my college career. During my first few semesters, I applied to a couple of scholarships but when I didn’t get it, I just gave up. I resigned myself to applying for more loans thinking that it would be easy to pay off later. I didn’t think about how it would affect the future me.
Not taking advantage of internships or other career opportunities early on
During my four years of college, I was only concentrating on the academic and social parts of higher education. I didn’t think to start on internships or jobs related to my major until my senior year of college. I didn’t have much on my resume so I was scrambling to find things to do just for my resume. Looking back, I was actually a poor candidate for the job market especially after the 2009 recession. I knew several people who did not find jobs in their career (or didn’t find any job at all!) after 6 months – 1 year after graduation. Only through the help of the career center was I able market my skills and experiences that I got a job two months after graduation.
Despite the high cost, college is important because it significantly raises your earning potential over your lifetime compared to high school graduates. The experiences and relationships I’ve gained have also had a large impact on who I am today. However, students should be more strategic in how they spend their money and do their best avoid loans and overspending. I wish I didn’t make these financial mistakes because it’s going to stay with me and my family for years to come. Hopefully, many of you will learn from my experience so that you can graduate and achieve your dreams without debt holding you down.