The post-high school world can be a lot like traversing a scene straight out of The Walking Dead, complete with groaning and grunting with clawed hands toward the sky. It’s a battlefield of hard choices and big risks.
Plus, there’s more than one scary monster lurking around the bend. Kids are barely old enough to rent a car or enlist in the military, but they’re expected to make smart life choices, which if played poorly, could leave them in financial ruin.
The thought of college for some is just a strategic piece of the puzzle they have been planning since the sixth grade. For the rest of us, looking at colleges, waiting on acceptance letters, and buying expensive textbooks are part of a dizzying fabric of the higher education experience. But, within all of that craziness, kids tend to go overboard with their spending. And if you’re not paying attention, college debt can come in like a tidal wave.
This is why it’s crucial to think about the big picture beforehand. No one wants a horror show debt scenario. No one wants a landscape fraught with zombies and financial ghouls. For the college kids of today and tomorrow, it’s a smart move to plan, to take some time to figure out goals before jumping headfirst into the collegiate waters.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to breathe. Your whole life is ahead of you. It may seem like the world is coming in like a defensive lineman, but it isn’t – the real world moves fast and you just need to be prepared. There are things to consider when making that jump into college and more importantly what to consider so that you’re not financially broken when it’s time to enter the workforce.
THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE CAPER – THE 2-UP GUARANTEE
Community college is an easy way to knock out possible debt and still get the basic educational needs out of the way and for like, ¼ of the price of a traditional college experience. Students who opt to get their associates out of the way first save thousands of dollars.
Think about it: a community college is close to home, which means you can stay living with mom and dad. The classes are always affordable at around $150 a class, and there is almost always a local used bookstore that offers books for a quarter of the retail price.
To make the pot even sweeter, there’s a policy in place with many community colleges and state universities called “Guaranteed Admission” where if you excel at a community college, you’ve got a spot on the roster. Plus, they even offer financial relief for good grades, should you fall within the scope of the program.
Another perk is that a community college schedule is pretty easy to maintain as most students are working. Because most of the student body is employed, it cuts down on debt twofold: no loans need to be taken out for food or living expenses. Most classes are paid for upfront with saved money instead of loan money. Community colleges can make for a serious win when you’re trying to avoid student loans.
REALLY THINK ABOUT YOUR MAJOR – WILL THIS MAKE A CAREER?
While it may be cool to say that you’re the literal master of your field, are you going be able to pay rent? A lot of the creative jobs in the world don’t pay the best. They require a lot of dues to be paid. So, unless you’re willing to start from the absolute bottom, it’s best to have a solid backup plan that you won’t hate. No one is saying pick a minor in something that makes you want to agonize over each time you walk in the door just to keep food in your belly, but definitely pick an area of study that allows for a wide berth of options when it comes to job hunting time.
For some folks, it’s not ideal to go to school with “I need a job” in mind, but it’s the nature of the beast. Keeping an eye on the career fields that offer a high employment rate is an easy way to get into the workforce fast. Plus, if you decide to become a coder or developer, those jobs pay well immediately. Because some fields are in such demand, a few employers will even offer a contract while you’re in school and take over your loan payments.
Having a solid backup plan is essential for the obvious reasons, but also if you rack up a lot of debt earning this degree, how can you expect to pay the money back when you can barely afford a two-piece from Popeyes for lunch? By all means, live your best life, but be aware that having a thought out plan of attack is what will save you from getting your phone shut off while in pursuit of the dream. And when that dream job finally opens up, you’ll have gas money and a lot of other levels of experience to add to the resume.
PICK THE RIGHT INTERNSHIPS
This thought goes hand in hand with number two. When you are thinking about where you want to work, or what you would like to explore – picking the right internship is critical. Just because a rad video game company needs interns, don’t think you need to drop everything to get on that train, too. Go to the lesser known places. Check out the available internships that the others may not be scrambling after. Your college should have a list, but also just Google some interesting companies and see what their needs are. They may not advertise, but an email never hurt anyone. Chances are, if you look and try to find an internship at a place that more aligned with your career goals vs. cool factor, you’ll find places that will give more meaningful work, but also help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
There’s no specific “intern-season” either. An internship is the most valuable part of your college experience. If an opportunity opens up, take it. Be looking year-round for your way in, even if it’s during the summer. Besides, some internships even pay.
By finding a place that gives you stuff to do besides fetching coffee and helps you career-wise, you may spend less time trying to figure out how to move the next chess piece. Plus, if you make an impression, those people may invite you for some part-time work, or even a job. Don’t be just a body performing duties, find somewhere they’ll teach you to make an impact.
DO YOU NEED THOSE LITTLE EXTRAS?
This is one plenty of folks are guilty of. When it’s time for the annual “let’s ask Uncle Sam for more cash” time a lot of people need an odd number like five or seven thousand. The government will give them a round number like eight or ten thousand. While it feels like bonus cash, it’s most definitely not. We get it. That’s extra money for Spring Break, or to live off of, but really, don’t abuse the money.
I’m going to sound like your dad here, but if you get the extra cash you don’t need, pay it back. Don’t even touch it. Put it right back to them. For every thousand you borrow, that’s hundreds in interest over time. According to CNBC the current student loan rate is up to 7% of the total gross number of the loan. That’s a lot of money.
If you insist on keeping the money, just know you’re beholden to paying it back down the line. Save the cash and budget what you’re getting and use the money on “as needed” basis instead of buying that flashy new television.
PAY ATTENTION – THAT EXTRA YEAR WILL EQUAL THOUSANDS – IT’S NOT AN ENDLESS PARTY, IT’S AN EDUCATION
Let me beat a drum for a second here: When you get out of school, finding that dream job will be hard. Rarely do people kill it immediately. When you’re like the 99.9% rest of us, you gotta climb the ladder toward a job that you’re ultimately happy with. The thing is, all of this takes time, and those first jobs pay garbage. Earning little money, paying rent, eating and hoping to have a little money left over to have a social life is hard enough. Doing it without the ghoul of student loans looming over your shoulder is an even more significant challenge.
According to Forbes, “Jodi Okun, founder of College Financial Aid Advisors says, “Even if you can afford it, if you’re able to finish in time and you or your parents don’t have to pay that extra $30,000, then go for it.”
Don’t take on more debt than you or your family needs. Just because it sounds great to blow off a semester, in the long run, you’re only hurting yourself or mom and dad.