College is often presented as a pathway to financial independence and security. But for many students, it also becomes an obstacle to financial health.
Over two-thirds of today’s U.S. college and university students take out student loans, graduating with an average of almost $30,000 in debt after completing a bachelor’s degree. For graduate students, that number is even higher.
While some students are forgoing college in favor of vocational training, it can also be a personally enriching, intellectually challenging, and professionally invaluable experience. You can still attend college while achieving financial freedom and taking control of your financial health. Here are a few tips to consider when you’re planning for your professional and financial future.
1: Think About Financial Health from the Beginning
One common mistake that college-bound students make is avoiding the question of finances altogether. For example, a student might get emotionally attached to the idea of a single, out-of-state university, forgetting about the far more affordable options closer to home.
Your college application and research process should include finances as part of the package. Consider not only the affordability of a given school, but also other financing and cost-cutting options. Look for scholarships early and often, and ask about work-study opportunities when you visit schools. Take into consideration not only the cost of tuition itself, but also the average room and board fees at a given college.
When you choose a major, choose wisely. Do your homework in terms of what the projected job prospects are in the coming years. Is your hoped-for career in a growing industry, or a dwindling field? What is the average graduate from your major making five years out of college, or ten? Will you need a graduate degree to find a lucrative job in your field?
You don’t have to give up your dreams, but be realistic, plan ahead, and budget accordingly.
2: Avoid Credit Card Debt During College
If you do have to take out student loans, you can start preparing to pay them off while you’re still in school. One way to do that is to keep your personal expenses in check. If you graduate with both student loan debt and credit card debt, your budget will have to be a lot tighter than if you just have one major loan to pay off.
Establishing good credit is important to do during your young adulthood, so that you don’t have to correct your early mistakes later on. If you ever need to refinance your loans, good credit will be a major plus that can help you in that area as well.
Look for opportunities to save on gas by carpooling with other students if you commute or drive to activities often. While it can be tempting to eat out or get delivery a lot when you’re cramming for tests, try to cook with your friends and dorm buddies as much as possible to avoid those extra costs.
If you have time, working during college can help you manage some of those everyday expenses so that you won’t find yourself neck-deep in unnecessary debt when you finish your degree.
3: Budget for Student Loan Payments
While you’re in school, it’s often easy to forget about student loans. After all, they’re a long ways away, right?
But college can go by in the wink of an eye. Before you know it, it’ll be time to start chipping away at your debt, payment by payment.
If you don’t qualify for loan forgiveness, it’s time to create your first post-graduate personal budget. Your budget should account for student loan payments so that you never get behind and nothing is a surprise. If you possibly can, try to pay off more than the minimum payment each month so that interest doesn’t accrue.
Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.