These Five Tips May Save You Thousands of Dollars

When beginning college, money management and long term financial goals are probably not on the top of your list of concerns. After all, once you have your degree the world will realize how brilliant, talented, and amazing-in-every-way you are. Money will rain down from the sky. You will be King or Queen of all that you survey. Anyway, for now, Uncle Sam is kicking you fat financial aid checks so you’re golden. 

Unfortunately, if you think this way you’re a tragic dumbass. 

I say that having been a tragic dumbass myself, so don’t cry. I am brilliant, talented and amazing-in-every-way. Just ask my mommy. I also have two degrees, including a Masters degree. Yet, so far, money hasn’t started raining down from the heavens, the world stubbornly refuses to acknowledge me as its sovereign, and that jerk Uncle Sam keeps threatening to break my kneecaps if I don’t cough up the $110,000 he fronted me in Student Loans. 

Fortunately, as a Student Financial Aid Officer I’ve learned a few things that can help you avoid being a dumbass like me. 

1. Start at Community College.

Get your Associates Degree there, then transfer to a State University. Your first two years of a State university will consist of basic classes anyway. Most community colleges have Associate Transfer Degrees that cover these classes at significantly less cost. Get the Associate degree at Community College then transfer into a State University as a Junior. You’ll save thousands of dollars.

2. Don’t go to a for-profit college.

I work for one. Trust me here. While there are always exceptions to every rule, the reality is that even the better for-profit colleges cost upwards of three times that of a State University, and have significantly fewer scholarship or grant options. Don't let their smiling recruiting people fool you with their handful of success stories. These are few and far between. 

3. Only take the amount of financial aid you need. 

It may suck to work and go to school, especially when your financial aid check will provide you with enough money (barely) to live on. But over the course of four years that excess money offered for living expenses can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands of dollars that is collecting interest and which you will have to pay back once you’re out of school. Get a part-time crap job if you have too. This misery will pale in comparison to the massive student loan debt you will be paying (with interest) once you’re out of school. If you use only the financial aid you need to cover tuition and books, you post-graduation payments will be much more manageable. 

4. Don’t count on scholarships (But do apply for them).

There are plenty of scholarship websites out there, like fastweb, that will match your background, interests, etc. to scholarships. Make applying for scholarship a part-time job, but don’t count on getting a full ride or thousands of dollars. For most people, I actually recommend applying for the smaller scholarships because there’s less competition for these and because $200 here and $500 there ads up quickly. Once you experience the mind-numbing cost of textbooks, you'll know what I mean. 

5. Work hard Play less hard.

College is not high school. For starters, you’re paying for it. Do you really want to pay thousands of dollars for a mere piece of paper? Because that’s what your degree is if you haven’t really learned anything. No matter how great your butt may look in those jeans, it's actually your brain that is your best asset. Flaunt it. When you're knowledgeable your self-esteem increases, your confidence increases, your potential to succeed at anything you put your mind to increases. Plus, on a practical side, with everyone under the sun getting degrees it's more important than ever for you stand out from the herd if you want to land a good job, let alone your dream job. Every school has tutoring centers, study helps and so on. Use them. No matter how challenging a subject may be, you can master it and become a star student if you put in the required effort. If you do, the payoff will be immense. So aim for that 4.0 GPA. 

- A.K.S