Currently, you cannot open a newspaper, read an online article, or turn on the news without hearing about the student loan relief that is being argued across the United States. We continue to place blame everywhere we go – parents, colleges, government, and my favorite, I was just a kid and didn’t know what I was signing. At the end of the day, we need to shed our Peter Pan syndrome and face the problem at hand instead of expecting the government or our parents to fix the error of our ways.
I was once where many recent graduates are today. I graduated with my Bachelors in 2008 right when the market took a dive, had about $12,000 in student loan debt, was working 4 part-time jobs as well as doing catering for weddings to be able to afford my party-girl lifestyle, pay my bills, and take care of my student loans. At the time, 22-years-old me was not serious about getting out of debt. I was normal, paying the minimum on my loans to keep them from going into default. Then I became a true genius when I took out another $20,000 to go to graduate school in Boston. Do I regret getting my Bachelors or my Master degrees – no. Do I wish I had 35-year-old me giving advice to 25-year-old me about college, of course, but we can’t change the past only the future.
If you are thinking about going to school or are in school right now these are the 5 things that I wish I knew then:
Question Everything – You know that annoying child in the back seat (probably your younger sibling) asking why all the time? Be that kid. It is amazing the kind of information you can gather from admissions directors if you keep asking questions. A few years ago I was looking into Law School and had sticker shock. I refused to take out debt to go to law school so I started looking at flexible programs that would allow me to work full-time. The other thing I looked for was money. I uncovered that most large scholarship information is not online. These are the ones that tell you the test score you need to have to hit 50-80% tuition coverage. Needless to say I found out those scores and GPAs by asking 20 questions to anyone that would listen.
Save As Much As You Can – Pour money into a college savings account or brokerage account where that money can grow. The more money you have when you start school, the more flexible your life becomes.
Grab Every Opportunity – I was passed over for a Graduate Assistantship the first year at Boston University, but I tried again over the summer and landed it for the next 1.5 years until I graduated. That assistantship cut my tuition by about $7,000 while I continued to work full-time in my field of study. I took every consulting gig, internship, and job I could get my hands on that helped me network in my field as well as pile-up cash for tuition. Seize the day!
Don’t Let Money Control You – If a school is out of reach due to tuition costs don’t go there. At the end of the day you are paying for a piece of paper. There are 100s of options that will open doors for you to be able to work in your field. Don’t let a university control your life once you graduate. Budget and control your money from the start.
Ignore The Alumni Façade – Schools love to tell you all the famous people who graduated from their University. At Boston University, it was Dr. Martin Luther King among other well know celebrities, activists, directors, congress officials…etc. They love to name drop, but it does not mean a damn thing. 9 times out of 10 an alumni is going to have zero affect on getting you a job. Landing a job is 90% you, 5% luck, and 5% there isn’t a better candidate.
The current student loan debt is $1.7 trillion and rising every year. There are three problems our government should be looking at to fix this – the interest rates, the costs that universities (public & private) charge, and get rid of the damn student loan program. I believe, that in the United States, education should be a right, not a privilege. We are one of the most advanced countries in the world, yet we take care of everyone else instead of our own people. If there is something that we’ve learned from the last 40 years as universities have increased their prices to astronomical rates is to ask ourselves – who truly has the power to change the system? We do. Stop allowing these institutions to control your future. Think for yourself. Be smart in your choices. Plan. And lastly, don’t get caught up in the glamour of going to a “prestigious institution.”