6 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me Before I Started College

Let’s face it: the stereotypical higher ed experience of 90s movies — that it’s years of partying and dating and fun — is no longer the norm, if it ever was. Whether you’re going for a certificate, a two-year degree, or a bachelor’s, you’re making a serious investment of money and time.

Of course you should have fun. But here’s some other things you should do as well. Because if somebody had given me this advice all those years ago, it would have saved me a whole lot of time, stress, and money.

  1. Spend less than you earn. This may seem obvious, but there are so many ways people try to separate students from their money. You’re going to get a ton of credit card offers in college — throw them in the garbage. (It took me years to pay off my first credit card.) Resist the urge to take trips you can’t afford. And most importantly, have a budget. When you know how much is coming in and going out, it’s much less stressful than not knowing, even if money is really tight. You can find a great introduction to budgeting here.
  2. Be smart about your time. According to a recent survey, most college students have a part-time job. One out of every four students has a full-time job. Which means that you really have to prioritize. If you want to do well in your program, you’re going to have to put your coursework and earning before your social life. If you’re lucky and you don’t have to work, that’s awesome — but you still have to put school first.
  3. Eat well. It’s so tempting to eat a lot of fast food when you’re in college — it’s cheap, it’s quick, and it’s always available. But try not to eat it all the time. Sure, you can get a $5 meal at the Golden Arches. But you can also get a box of pasta and a jar of sauce for five bucks, and that’s more like four meals for the same money. Even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, that old grade school standby, will be cheaper and healthier in the long run. Here’s a great collection of easy recipes for college students.
  4. Get some exercise. There’s so much pressure today to be super-thin and jacked. But the fact is if you’re in college and holding down a job, then you won’t have time to be a gym rat. But you can take a walk or do morning stretches. A little goes a long way, and there’s a lot you can without equipment. Research shows that even ten minutes a day has benefits.
  5. Have fun. Fun is absolutely mandatory. You need to make time to dance, laugh, watch TV or read a book. There will be times when you’ll have to pull a double shift or an all-nighter to get a project done. But make sure that you take time to hang out with friends when you can. Because working every waking moment is a recipe for burnout.
  6. Don’t beat yourself up. Miss a deadline? Sleep through class? Got a lousy grade? It happens. We all make mistakes. The best college students don’t obsess about mistakes, though — they learn from them. Just think about what you need to do better, and then move on. Because the whole point of a college degree is learning. If you knew how to do everything perfectly already, you wouldn’t need school.

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