Are you getting excited about college yet?
It’s been almost 17 years, but I still remember how I felt my first week on campus. I finally had my independence. I was going to go places, meet people and learn about life. All the newfound freedom felt great. Do you know what I mean?
Whether you’re already in school or planning to be there soon, the prospect of more freedom is exhilarating.
But I’ve learned a few things about true independence since my college days, things no one ever taught me inside a classroom. To be specific, I’ve learned that a large part of real freedom comes from being wise with your money.
Back when I started college, I had the idea that what I did with my money just wasn’t that serious. I didn’t see how certain financial decisions I made at the time would have hard consequences in the future.
Today it’s my hope and my passion to share the things I’ve learned about money with today’s generation of college students.
Here’s what you need to know if you want to experience real independence.
Avoid Student Loans
The sad fact is many of your high school classmates and most of the people you’re going to meet in college will sign up for student loans. In our culture today, the majority of people accept the myth that there’s no way to go to college without tying yourself up in debt for years.
I’m here to tell you that’s totally false. As someone who fell for the student loan racket myself as an 18-year-old, I can tell you it’s a very bad plan. My loans stuck with me for years after I was out of school, and at one point, I was sending almost $2,000 a month to try to get them paid off. That’s no way to start a new career! During that time, I felt anything but independent. I felt like I was a slave to those loans. That’s why I want you to do everything you can to avoid debt and preserve your future financial independence. There are plenty of ways to go to college without borrowing.
So why do so many people take on student loan debt? There’s one main reason—because they choose a school they can’t really afford. Which leads us to my next tip . . .
Choose a School You Can Afford
Other than staying out of debt, which is essential, picking an affordable school is the most important part of making sure you’re financially independent in college and beyond. A lot of young people spend a ton of money they don’t really have to go to a fancy private school. And it’s sometimes for a superficial reason like knowing a friend who’s attending there or believing you can’t get a job without going to a certain school.
Those are not good reasons to choose a school. You can keep up with high school friends in many ways, and you’ll meet plenty of great people no matter where you attend. But the idea that employers care a whole lot about where you got your degree from is another myth. At the most, it might get the attention of someone who went there themselves, but it’s not the kind of factor that will make or break the hiring process. What you learned in school and the character you bring to an organization matter far more, and there’s no amount of money (especially borrowed money) that can buy those things.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with attending a private school if you can afford it. But on the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a state school either. Especially if it means the difference between graduating with a six-figure debt load (which many private school grads do) and doing it debt-free. If loans are the only way you can enroll at a certain school, then the school is not for you. You’re much better off choosing an affordable state school, preferably where you can take advantage of in-state tuition breaks for residents.
Consider Completing Your First Year or Two at Community College
This one’s not essential, but depending on your situation and your goals, it might make a lot of sense. Keep this in mind about community college: It makes no difference to the ultimate value of your degree, but it could save you thousands of dollars compared to a full four years at a state or private school. This option works especially well if you’re going for an associate’s degree, vocational certificate or other career option that doesn’t require a four-year degree.
Live at Home
I know what you’re thinking. How is living with my parents an example of a more independent lifestyle? Well, in the short-term, it’s not. I get that. But remember we’re talking about long-term results here.
Have you heard about all the young college graduates lately who’ve been forced to move home with their parents because they got into a difficult financial situation? That’s usually an outcome no one plans on. One way to prevent it in your own life is to keep living with them now while you’re still a student. The money you save may make all the difference in helping you to secure lasting financial independence.
Get a Job While You’re in School
Not everyone agrees that getting a job while in school is a good idea. The primary pushback I hear from both students and families is that a part-time job will keep young people from doing well in their classes. That’s another myth. What I’ve seen in countless cases is that a part-time job has a positive impact on academic performance rather than hurting your grades. Get a campus job and treat it like an extracurricular activity with a paycheck attached. Every extra dollar you earn can be put toward books, food or tucked into a savings account.
Apply for Scholarships and Get Free Cash for School
This is a big one, and it’s something that far too few students pursue. We’re talking about free money someone wants to give you so you can go to school at no cost to you! Thousands of scholarships are available, and many of them go unclaimed each year. That’s insanity! You should be using every Christmas vacation and every summer break to apply for some of them. And don’t think this applies only to people applying for the first time. Many scholarships allow applicants who are already in college, so make this an ongoing habit as you’re working to cash-flow your degree.
With these principles in mind, you should be able to finish college in great shape financially. Avoid the financial risks of debt that so many Americans deal with, and you’ll very likely be able to build up some savings. That’s a much better way to start your career!
About the Author: Anthony ONEAL is one of Your Monthly Mentors. Since 2003, Anthony has helped thousands of students make good decisions with their money, relationships and education to live a well-balanced life. Now Anthony has joined Ramsey Solutions to spread this encouraging message to students nationwide as a Ramsey Personality. His youth conferences, concerts and events have drawn enormous crowds, and he’s spoken for some of the biggest names in the industry, including Bishop T.D. Jakes’ MegaFest Youth Ministry, television personality, Judge Glenda Hatchett and Rory Jones. Anthony has also appeared on Fox and Friends, CNN and TBN. Read more and check out Anthony’s other articles…
You can follow Anthony on Twitter and Instagram @AnthonyONeal and online at anthonyoneal.com or facebook.com/aoneal.
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