Going to college is supposed to be one of the best times of your life — and it is. However, many people, including myself, leave college wishing they had done things differently.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and the mistakes you make in college seem so obvious later on. If I were to go back to college now, here is what I’d do differently.
Start Paying Off My Student Loans Early
I feel like my absolute biggest mistake in college was not paying off my student loans early. Although my parents could not help me with the cost of tuition, they did help me with living expenses, allowing me to live at their place rent-free. It was great because it was a five-minute walk to the college and I didn’t have to worry about paying for rent.
I was smart enough to work all four years of college, even in the summers. However, I spent nearly everything I made because I didn’t have any bills at the time. I hadn’t learned what it was like to be financially responsible.
I vaguely understood that I was taking out student loans, but because I knew my minimum wage couldn’t cover tuition, I didn’t even think of putting money towards my student loans before the due date.
By living at home for free and working part-time, I could have cut my undergraduate loans in half before I even graduated.
Take Advantage of Everything College Has to Offer
In college, I was very focused on my studies and working. Of course, this is the point of college, but I was so focused on doing well that I didn’t have much of a social life.
College is so much more than studying. When you pay large sums of money for tuition, you are also paying for access to clubs, social activities, events, and more, and it behooves you to take part in these other activities as you’ve already paid for it!
I wish I would have joined at least one club, attended more events, and taken advantage of some of the things my university offered.
Attend Classes That Challenge Me
Like most people, I chose general education classes that I thought were “easy” in college. If it sounded too hard, I didn’t sign up. In college, you are required to take some general education classes as well as classes that are part of your major.
Usually, you have at least some say as to which classes you will take to fulfill your requirements. I wish I would have thought more strategically about what classes I was taking and how it would affect my future.
College is a great time to challenge yourself — it’s a relatively safe space to learn, fail, and grow. Staying in your comfort zone will limit growth and opportunities.
Limit the Amount of Student Loans I Took Out
When you get approved for student loans, the financial aid package often includes additional funds to cover living expenses. As I mentioned, I lived at home so I didn’t really need additional funding — I just needed money to cover tuition. My part-time job could have covered my books and my rent was free.
But when I was offered my student loan package, I just accepted it. I thought that it was what you were supposed to do and was never told otherwise. I wasn’t smart enough to put that excess money in savings or lower my student loan distributions.
This mistake cost me several thousand dollars and at least another year or two of debt repayment.
Although I wish I had done things differently, my mistakes are part of my story and I know better now. Because of my mistakes, I was forced to learn how to be financially responsible when I graduated and had my first student loan payment due.
Check back next week for things I did right in college.
What would you do differently in college?
Melanie Lockert is a freelance wordsmith, a passionate debt fighter, and frugal lovin’ minimalist who writes at DearDebt.com. She devotes 50% of her income to student loan debt and is often dreaming of her next adventure.