Last updated: June 7, 2018.
Students are bombarded with advice as they leave high school and enter college or university. This is especially true when it comes to their finances and career goals.
As a former academic advisor, I’ve heard them all. I’ve been guilty of churning out some of the more tired suggestions myself.
However, not all advice is created equally. There are some valuable tips amongst the noise that can help college students make better choices, and graduate in a better financial situation.
1. Don’t Go To College “Just Because”
Taking time off after graduating high school to discover oneself is often frowned upon. But don’t let this stigma of the gap year be the only reason you go to college.
Tuition, books, and living expenses associated with being a college student all come with a heavy price tag. If you don’t know what career path you’re interested in, going to college “just because” is an expensive way to try to figure it out.
Depending on your circumstances, you may have other opportunities available to you. These could include travelling, volunteering, getting a job, or perhaps staying in high school for an extra year.
If these options aren’t available to you (or if taking a gap year is out of the question) there are affordable ways to go to college to explore possible career paths.
Community colleges typically have lower tuition fees than 4-year colleges and can be a great way to test the waters without investing too much time or money.
Taking classes on a part-time basis allows students to pursue post-secondary education at a slower pace and with more flexibility. This is a popular choice for students with other commitments, such as those with family obligations or work commitments.
2. Get a Job
How do you know what career you’ll enjoy working in for the rest of your life if you’ve never even had a job?
Any work experience will give you something to put on your resume and will help you build the real-world skills required for most jobs (such as problem-solving, and keeping commitments).
And of course, having a job will also help you pay your bills.
But the more experience you have, the better you’ll understand what working environment and conditions suit you best.
Are you more comfortable sitting behind a desk all day, or do you prefer to be up on your feet?
Can you handle stressful situations calmly, or does simply thinking about it stress you out?
Every job will teach you something. Even if all you learn is that this particular role or industry is not right for you. (Which is not something you can learn from reading a textbook.)
One of the smartest things I did as a student was getting a job that was not related to my major at all. I was pursuing a degree in theatre. I was interested in it, but I had no idea what sort of job or career it would lead to.
Incidentally, I accepted a part-time job working as an academic advisor on campus. And guess what? By combining the two, I was able to find a career path that was much better suited for me. And was able to land a full-time job before I even graduated.
If you prefer not to be told to what to do by a cranky boss, consider working for yourself! There are tons of ways to make money online, from the comfort of your home without having to worry about satisfying a supervisor.
3. Work or Volunteer in Areas that Interest You
The image of what you have in your head about what working in a certain career looks like might be very different than what the reality is. The only way to know for sure is to work or volunteer in your area(s) of interest for yourself.
For example, do you want to be an elementary school teacher but have never tried to teach a room of people before? Working or volunteering in a school or classroom will give you a better idea of what being a teacher really is. You may discover that it’s not the right career path for you after all.
And isn’t that something you’d want to know sooner rather than later? You know, before you spend years of your life and thousands of dollars on something that isn’t going to pan out?
Depending on your field of interest, it might be hard to get any first-hand experience.
Volunteer positions may only be for a short time and will probably include only basic responsibilities. However, it will give you a broader look at the industry.
Or you may need to look for comparable opportunities instead. Following the above example, if you can’t volunteer in a school, look at places like the Boys & Girls club or Scouts instead.
Who knows, maybe you’ll discover a career path that you hadn’t considered before?
4. Don’t Spend Your Student Loan on a New TV
Majority of college students require some sort of student loan or financial aid in order to afford going to college.
This loan money is to pay for your tuition and books, and to cover your living expenses while studying as a student. It is not meant to be “free” (for now) money to spend on lavish things.
Like many students, I too am guilty of spending some of my student loan money on non-school related things. It was not a good financial decision by any means, and I wish I made better choices.
However, blowing a few hundred dollars on new clothes or at the bar is not nearly as bad as blowing thousands of it on a new TV or a vacation. (Which is exactly what far too many students are doing.)
Graduating with student loan debt is already a pretty big burden for most people. Adding consumer debt to the mix only makes it that much harder.
Is getting that new TV now really worth the possibility of not being able to get a house 10 years from now?
YOUR TURN: What other financial advice would you give to college students? Let us know in the comments!
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