college student finance tips

Peddle Bell Tower II

This post is part of The Money Writers‘ college student finance tips group writing project.

Everyone likes to think that with the passage of time they become an expert. Simply by virtue of their own experience, they become an expert in an area that could be the subject of full-time study.  That’s what giving financial advice to students seems like to me – but I’m going to give it a shot as part of a group writing project by The Money Writers.  I only have three, and in all fairness it’s really only one idea broken down three ways.

1.  Consider if you really need to go to THAT (or any) college. I’ve thought about this idea a lot recently.  I have a relative who’s going to school for art.  A very expensive private school… for art.  Does that make sense?  I suppose it might.  Maybe you interact with other artists, you get to hone your skills.  But do you need an expensive private school education in art?  I majored in mathematics.  I needed help – you need instructors to explain things.  If you’re a writer, you need someone to teach you how to spell, writer gooder, and so on.  If you want to be a dentist, you aim (I hope) on attending dental school.  But if you want to work in accounting, trust me – the Big 4 are hiring just as many people out of state schools as private schools.  You will all make the same.  And if you’re an artist – maybe you should give a couple of years over to art before going to school.  Just sayin’.

2.  Choose a major based on your needs, not your idle ‘wants’. A recent commentator said that they needed to attend a $40,000 a year graphic design school.  If you want to be a doctor, you can afford to gamble on taking on student loan debt.  Your future earning potential is high.  If you plan to be a high school teacher, you might want to think twice about taking on huge debt.  Choose a major based on your needs – or more importantly, go back to step 1.

3.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew. I imagine this is the simplest advice, but the most often ignored in our status-hungry society.  If you cannot afford a $50,000 per year education – if you have to scrape and pull together every last dime – ask yourself:  could you go to a less expensive school?  Would it cripple you beyond belief?  Will people revere your Yale biology degree and mock your Michigan biology degree?  I doubt it.  Take a look at what you can afford.  Remember:  your education will help you land your first j

I rejected a lot of prestigious schools to attend a state school and – very honestly – have never had a moment’s regret for my decision.  My choice would not be for everyone.  But in today’s world, with an uncertain economy, an unsure future and unrealistic expectations, I have to ask:  wouldn’t the best financial tip be not to waste money on more education than you need?

Check out the rest of The Money Writers‘ college student finance tips:

photo credit: lucianvenutian

20 Replies to “college student finance tips”

  1. Try as hard as you can to make it work without going into debt. If you can't, then rethink it. But if you REALLY want to go to Stanford, find a way to get it paid for.

  2. I think it is possible to waste money on formal education. However, you are a case in point of someone who has clearly spent a lot of resources on informal education (financial training, reflection, learning how to blog, etc.). In my opinion, that's rarely if ever mis-spent, because you only do the sorts of things you gravitate towards naturally, or because there's a clear good reason for informally learning something.

    There are however, some valid reasons for trying to pay the big bucks to go to an expensive private institution. But if you can't think of them or name them for yourself (or you can, but they're not important to you), then why not go wtih the cheaper alternative?

  3. Choosing a school and a major is definitely not an easy choice. So many high school graduates hardly even know what they want to do with their lives when they are selecting a college. Even after completing two years of college it is still difficult to choose. I think selecting a state school over a private school is a wise decision. Even after completing a bachelor's degree and entering the work force, people often find a different calling than what they studied for. I think it is somewhat risky to pay for a high-priced private school education when you may not even end up working in the field in which you obtained your degree.

  4. I am unconvinced. College is not just about getting a job… and it's not the bottom line either.

    Everyone always thinks they made the right choice. And I'm not sure that math needs any more instruction than art (or any other field). I think what really matters is where you think you are headed with that degree.

    All that being said, college is the same as any other purchase. You still have to ask yourself the same questions about value and need.

  5. My sense is that it's the parents who need the primer, or to figure out how to communicate this stuff to their offspring. Your advice is great – for a mature student but for the most part “college students” means 17 year olds, right? I feel bad for them.

    I mean, I was a relatively worldly 17 year old (had travelled widely, worked, had experienced sex/drugs/rock n roll, etc) but had NOT THE REMOTEST OF CLUES what the 9 to 5 world was like, what 31 year old me would want, what real money was, how early decisions would snowball, and so forth. I don't think that's too unusual. Fees weren't an issue for me (taxpayer-paid) but I'm still paying in little ways for the decisions I made back then.

  6. I guess there's the somewhat obvious comment that private college need not be more expensive than public college if you have scholarships. (And even then, the cost of attending UC Berkeley is $27k per year, in-state).

    I agree with guinness416. I would make the same choices again without a problem, but at 18, I didn't really understand the ways in which they would at once constrain me and also liberate me.

    Finally, I'm always surprised that gap years aren't as common in the States as they are in the UK. It always seems like the perfect opportunity to *find yourself* without spending lots of money.

    1. Plonkee, to your point and Guinness416's above, I think a gap year tradition would be a FANTASTIC idea and most Americans don't even think about it for a second. I know if I had spent a year interning for a big corporation, or traveling the world, or whatever, I would have known a lot more about what I wanted out of my life/career/school/etc. than I did. I went over to the Dark Side and jumped on board the corporate ship because of the travel opportunities, because I never really realized I could do it on my own – business travel is not a walkabout!

  7. Here's something I haven't seen — attend a community college for the first two years. You automatically save about half. Then, apply to whatever college you want along with scholarships and whatnot. You'll have had two more years to save and figure out what you like (which can still change, of course), but you'll get a great education (smaller class sizes, professors who aren't in the business of writing books, etc.) and you'll still be able to say that you graduated from Harvard (or wherever).

    1. Yeah, good suggestion Bill, can definitely work in certain situations. That's what my husband did (community college in connecticut + SUNY though, not harvard!) and combined with room and board from his night job at a country club he basically came out of university with a decent profit (he also has a great sob story for the personal statement part of the scholarship applications, which helped). Worked out great – he had a bit of extra time to perfect his english skills and learn how the US education system works, hasn't slowed him down much career-wise, and the circles we run in don't care where you went to school.

    2. Great point Bill. This is a much overlooked strategy and one that works well for the people who choose it. I am a huge proponent of spending as little money as possible on your education and then receiving a BIG return on that investment by picking a major that is in demand. It's not important that you be “fulfilled” in your job. No job will ever fulfill you. Every job comes with it's pluses and minuses no matter what you are doing. It is important, however, that you be able to support your family with the profession that you choose (this is where most of us end up; not all but most of us).

    3. Bill – great point. I tend to gloss over community colleges because of my own personal experience, but I do know several people who had great success (more than 4-year college grads) going to a community college first. Community colleges get very little promotion in the US, and that's a shame – for many of the people trying to “find themselves” a community college would be a good (and less expensive!) option.

  8. Without wanting to sound like a Communist feel that all students should be made to attend the nearest University teaching their subject of choice. Thousands saved annually on fuel and phone bills!

  9. Generally speaking, some private liberal arts colleges can be extremely generous with their financial aid, especially to students that do not come from Middle Class backgrounds. When I graduate school, for example, I will be less than $10,000 dollars in debt. If I had attended my state school, I would be ~$40,000 in debt. Through anecdotal evidence, this pattern seems to be repeated among my peers.

    There is also the matter of art school. Many “prestigious” art or fashion design schools are not well known for their education (although it is generally is excellent) but for the post-graduate contacts they provide. In the art world, contacts are everything so a higher initial cost may payout in the long–run. If not, it will at least tend to indifference.

    1. Of course you have to look at the lowest “net cost” of education. A scholarship-subsidized education at a private school would cost less than a non-scholarship-subsidized education at a public university. I suppose the “contacts” factor is tough to quantify. I would love to see a survey of people who were successful in the art world who were college-educated and attributed their success to college vs. people who just kept working at it without college. I suspect all the contacts in the world won't remedy a paucity of talent, but I could be wrong!

  10. I think that there are other, better, ways of getting the right contacts, but most people aren't that bright.

    I don't know what it's like in the US, but over here most art that you see for sale in galleries is by people who came to art as a career later in life. They may or may not have been to art college, but they had another career first.

    1. But often the people who own the galleries and organize the shows and events are young-buck type partnerships or groups who met at art/film/similar school. Well the ones I go to anyway.

  11. I gave it a shot too, but from a different perspective (more of a finance 101). Your perspective seems more from the type of school to choose in terms on financial considerations. An important aspect which is overlooked by many who are chasing the brand name.

  12. Always remember to do research and learn as much as you can before investing. There are a lot of state schools and universities that offer cheaper education than the private ones.

Comments are closed.