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5 Tips for Getting Ahead in College

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HandJim has covered the fundamentals and offered great tips on what to do before you start working after college. I figured I would chime in with my thoughts on how college students can get ahead of their peers by the time graduation day rolls around.

This is not textbook theory; I have used these tips myself. These are also not tips that only college students can use, just ideas for how to get ahead of the pack. Finally, you can use this advice at any time in your college career, from 1st year to 4th year (or even 6th! nothing wrong with switching majors).

1. Volunteer in the summer

While I couldn’t volunteer in the summer, because I need to work to save up money, but volunteering at a job in your field can lead to a paid position down the road. If you have your tuition costs subsidized (by scholarship or family), take advantage of it by volunteering for a job in your field.

If you’re not good at it or you find you hate it, you know what job you shouldn’t apply for after college! Either way you gain experience and have more than textbook theory under your belt.

2. Work in the summer

If the idea of working for free isn’t appealing, why not work for pay? Use your summer pay to cover as much of your college expenses as possible. This isn’t ground breaking advice but it’s amazing how many college students goof off in the summer.

I finally convinced a friend to work during the summer, going as far as getting him in contact with someone looking for help. My friend is surprised by how his money became to accumulate and how he might come close to paying off his college costs before graduation day. Before that, he would stress about his student loans!

3. Working during the school year

This is the KEY to getting ahead of most college students. If you can make the necessary sacrifices and can put up with the lack of sleep, work during the school year. It may take some time to find the right job but if you find one, it’s well worth the effort. Internships are another great option for earning money in college.

4. Get a savings & retirement account

Opening a savings account is crucial because it introduces you to the adult world and how finances are conducted. All the hard work you put in during the school year and during the summers can grow in a savings account. You may have to stay at the bank for an extra 10 minutes to sign the papers but it is definitely worth it. For me it was fairly simple and chances are you could cut the time in half by signing up with a “click-and-mortar” bank.

5. Automate your savings

College students don’t bother with automating their finances because they feel they don’t earn enough. Here’s the thing – with my first savings and retirement account I only contributed $20 a week into each. $40 a week is a what I used to spend on Subway sandwiches. Even if you contribute only $10 into each, you will be able to graduate from college with money in the bank.

My own personal philosophy is that I want more than a piece of paper when graduate day rolls around. I want the mental peace of not having to stress about paying back student loans, I want some practical experience that goes beyond memorizing a whole chapter the night before an exam, and I want to find a career at my own pace.

What did you do to get ahead of other college students? Or what do you wish you did back in college?

This is a guest post from The Studenomist @ Studenomics. Simply put, college students are often misled when it comes to personal finance and career decisions. Studenomics is here to solve the pain by helping you graduate from college with the ability to make sound financial decisions. If you like this article then please subscribe to the RSS feed.

(Photo: wwworks)

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12 Responses to “5 Tips for Getting Ahead in College”

  1. Patrick says:

    I saved as much money I could during college and lived as cheaply as possible so I would have money for a down payment on my home. I didn’t miss out on anything and was able to have a fairly sizable chunk of money when I graduated from undergrad.

  2. My son chose a low-cost college. This gave him the freedom to choose volunteer work, low-paying jobs (camp counselor), and travel. He and his pals donate plasma for up to $300.00/month. This pays better than often tedious campus jobs.

    My advice: Graduate in 4 years. Don’t change your major! Your major makes little difference in your future. Even art majors can get into med school with organic chemistry and a few other courses.

  3. Christina says:

    You can work full time and go to school online or at night too. You will still earn the same degree that you would as a full time student. It isn’t easy but it can be done!

  4. I’m trying hard to find a club or organization to join on campus, I’ve heard that it does some good after graduation. Is that true? It’s hard for me to find the time, between the actual schoolwork, work and my other clubs. (I’m a member of two, but no affiliation with the school in any way.)

    Sadly, even with me working I’m still piling up the loans. Sorry, but I do want to kind of enjoy my youth while I’ve got it… And the student loans are the only debt I’ve accrued. (Car loan, yes, but to build credit. I could kill it off at any time, if I felt so inclined and was willing to be cash poor for a while.)

    All told, I think I’m going to take four and a half years to graduate… Switched majors from chemistry to finance. Yeah, it does make a difference. My advisor changed majors in his third year to something completely different…. Do what you want, don’t settle. College isn’t the time to start making a list of regrets.

  5. Colleen says:

    Thought I’d share this tip:!

    College students looking to study in style and comfort now have a chance to win an ergonomic chair or keyboard tray from leading ergonomic seating manufacturer Neutral Posture, Inc. The company is launching a Facebook promotion inviting college students to share their perspective on why ergonomics is important in the workplace. Each student who posts an answer to the question, “Why Go Ergo?,” on Neutral Posture’s Facebook group wall between August 10-August 31 will be entered into a drawing to win a Neutral Posture 8600 chair or its elementAL keyboard tray

  6. Tim says:

    Study abroad! It can be a money saver too: studying for a semester in a developing country can be much cheaper than the equivalent tuition at most US colleges.

  7. MyMeans says:

    Good advice. I definitely agree with working during the school year, not only for financial reasons, but it helps you do more while in college. I would also recommend looking for projects/start-ups through clubs, professors, etc. that could be valuable experience or even the next Google. You just have to look and try.

  8. studenomist says:

    @MyMeans I totally agree with your comment on keeping an eye out for projects at school. One thing that I always do is introduce myself to the professors so that they know who I am and what I am about. I also try to spread the word about what I have to offer. This way if anything ever comes up where the professor requires assistance I will hopefully come to mind.

  9. eric says:

    all good points. all college students should be told this.

  10. liz says:

    Wow, $40 a week on sandwiches? Most kids say they can’t afford to put money into savings, and they can’t. The ones saying this are NOT the ones blowing all their money on eating out every day. Serious disconnect here.

  11. College Spot says:

    Great points. I’d also recommend looking and apply for scholarships for the next semester. Tons out there but most go unseen.

  12. Nicole says:

    I am a college student and I failed all my class my first semester now that I am behind I wanted to know how to regain those lost credit hours. This new school year I am worried about working part time about 30 hours or more a week and going to school I didn’t have a job last year and I still failed some classes now with a job am I going to be able to find time to do both. I know that next summer I am going to have to retake some classes to match up with other students as far as my credits earned. But what are some tips for time as far as a balance between school and work

  13. Gabriella says:

    How did you end up doing Nicole?


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