The only thing worse than student debt is unnecessary student debt. I mean, really, why would you want to spend years of your life making payments on something you never needed?
While it’s great to learn from your mistakes, it’s so much easier to learn from someone else’s. In that spirit, below are 10 costly, and avoidable, mistakes that students make while in college:
1. They have no idea what they want to do: Higher education is supposed to expand your horizons and introduce you to new things. It’s not uncommon for students to change majors once they’re unrolled. The vast majority of students enroll in college majoring in, “I don’t know.” What sense does it make to go thousands of dollars into debt for, “I don’t know?” Use a free tool, like the Virginia Education Wizard, to get a sense of what appeals to you and what fits your skills. That way you’ll have at least a sense of direction before entering campus.
2. They wait until college to do college work: Why pass up a chance to earn some college credit at what’s often a reduced price? High schools around Virginia hold Dual Enrollment agreements with their closest community college. These agreements allow students to take college-level classes while still in high school. Ask your school counselor of Career Coach about it. Use these credits to jump-start your pursuit of a degree.
3. They never use their community college (Part I): Even if your goal is a bachelor’s degree, your community college can save you time and money along the way. Thanks to an amazing collection of Guaranteed Transfer Agreements, you can take your first two years at a Virginia community college and graduate. That can earn you a guaranteed spot as a junior at one of more than 30 universities. Did I mention that community college class sizes are usually smaller?
4. They never use their community college (Part II): You can use your community college while you are enrolled in a university. Sometimes, it can mean scheduling a class that you really need, but it doesn’t jive with your university schedule. Other times, it can mean taking a summer class to stay on schedule. Besides, mandatory tuition and fees are only about one-third what you’ll pay at a public university. Why pay extra for the same composition class?
5. They take too long to finish: No matter where you go to college, take 15 credit hours every semester. The college experience can be a blast. We get that. But the meter’s running. And memories of even the best parties can be tainted by a long, unforgiving (and expensive) hangover like unnecessary college debt.
6. Missing out on scholarships and financial aid: Oh, those pesky deadlines. Missing those means missing opportunities to finance your college education. Make it a point to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. You can qualify for grants or federal loans. “Loans.” There’s that word again. But, student loans are not like regular bank loans – the interest rate is almost always lower. In some cases, much lower.
7. Not planning ahead: Making new friends when you’re in college is both fun and a great professional networking opportunity. Today’s classmates may well be tomorrow’s colleagues. And building relationships with your instructors can help you land internships, not to mention the free advice they’re apt to offer when asked.
8. Not creating a budget: Budgeting your money is a full-time job when you go to college. Also, try to avoid purchasing a new laptop – you can get by without it in most cases – and limit the amount of time you spend on your phone. Exceeding data limits can bust a budget in short order. Finally, use your student ID for discounts and be sure to take advantage of free events. In addition to going easy on your wallet, the latter will afford you ample professional networking opportunities.
9. Credit Card Debt: Credit cards have a lot of appeal, and in today’s culture, they’ve become a way of life. But, they can raise some red flags, too. Many have high interest rates and unfavorable terms. And, we’ve all heard the horror stories linked to making “minimum payments.” In some cases, paying the least amount due each month can leave you saddled with debt that can take years to pay off.
10. Reaching for an expensive college: A lot of students have dreams of going to a prestigious college or university. But, that might not make a lot of sense when it comes down to brass tacks. You could spend tens of thousands of dollars pursuing a degree that may yield little value after you’ve graduated. In Virginia, earning your associate degree and then transferring to a university can save you at least $45,000 on the cost of a bachelor’s degree. That’s substantial, especially when you consider the average student debt load of a graduate in Virginia is nearly $30,000.
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