College can change your life. But college is also very expensive. If you are making (or are already doing) that investment, you must be successful.
Too often I hear horror stories from readers who have spent a lot of money, buried themselves in lots of student loan debt, and failed to realize any profits from their college education. It is heartbreaking to read and hear.
The hard part is that nobody is really telling you what it takes to be successful in college. Is it about just getting one? Is it about networking? After graduation, is it about getting a great job?
Today I am going to share my personal thoughts on what it takes to be successful in college and take advantage of some thoughts from experts who have been there.
# 1 College isn’t the time to find yourself
There used to be a saying that went, “Go to college to find yourself”. This is nonsense. College is way too expensive to waste time finding yourself.
One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Jobs when he gave his famous inaugural address at Stanford:
I naively chose a college almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were spent on my tuition. After six months I couldn’t see the value in it. Little did I know what to do with my life and how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all the money my parents had saved their whole life. So I decided to stop and trust that everything would be fine. It was pretty scary then, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The moment I dropped out of school, I could stop taking the required courses that didn’t interest me and start stopping by those that looked interesting.
If you don’t know what to do with your life, don’t go to college just yet. You can start your studies at any time! (Trust me, colleges will always be ready to take your money).
Why not work, travel or do an internship for a year? Just gather some life experiences, try a few things, know what you like, what you hate, what you are passionate about.
On the other hand, to be successful in college you have to be self-determined. You need to know what you want, why you are doing it, and what it is for you.
JD Roth from Get Rich Slowly says, “The NUMBER ONE that leads to success in college is self-direction, initiative.”
So if you want to be successful in college, you have a purpose. Have direction. And owns it.
# 2 You need a clear path to ROI
When you go to college, thinking about ROI isn’t usually high on your list of priorities. However, it has to be.
When you invest money in anything – real estate, stocks, a company – you expect a return on your investment. Paying for college is no different.
When you invest $ 50,000 or more, you should see a clear path to getting back your investment and more.
I’ve talked at length about calculating your college ROI, but still too many people fail.
When I applied for a student loan, I did my best to get as much as possible. Even if I didn’t need the extra funds, I would still use them. Little did I know how much money I was going to be spending by my senior year when I realized that doing so could have some extreme financial consequences. I was also not aware that you can apply for scholarships.
I firmly believe that for the first year after graduation, you should never borrow more than you expect. If you want to become a teacher, that’s great, but don’t borrow more than $ 35,000 or $ 40,000 that you could make as a teacher.
If you want to become an engineer, you can potentially borrow more than $ 60,000 as you can expect to make it based on what you want to do.
The bottom line is there is a clear path to ROI. You just have to find it and not just go to school “because you like it”.
# 3 You need to get organized
The habits you develop in college can determine or destroy your life and career after college. Now is the time to develop solid time management and organizational strategies that will help you manage your college life and your career beyond.
I’m a big fan of Google Calendar for organizing my life. Aaron of Personal Finance For Beginners did the same.
I relied heavily on two things: Google Calendar and the curriculum for each class. At the start of each semester, I would add every class, assignment, test / quiz, and project to my calendar. This made it easy to look in one place to see what came up. It enabled me to take full-time tuition all year round, work 25 hours a week, run two student organizations, and occasionally work as a consultant on the side.
If you can organize yourself while studying, you can save yourself a painful learning curve when you start working.
# 4 It’s a great idea to work while in college
One of the best things you can do is work while you are in college. A few years ago I wrote an article for Forbes asking some employers what is most important. The two main traits that employers were most interested in were communication skills and problem-solving skills. And they kept saying that graduates who worked while in college had the best skills.
I fully agree with this assessment. When I hired young graduates, there was a huge difference in communication skills between candidates who had worked during college and those who didn’t. Those that worked were able to communicate much better in a business setting.
People who worked while studying also have the potential to earn more after graduation (at least in their first job). The opportunity to provide evidence of professional background and experience can usually lead to higher pay. I know I would routinely see graduates with work experience start about $ 3,000 higher than those with no work experience.
# 5 Start a sideline
I’m a huge fan of building a side hustle. Starting a business that you can make your own money off is encouraging and educational.
The great thing about college is that you usually have more free time than you get after graduation. Use this free time to create something meaningful.
Wallet Hacks’ Jim describes his sideline:
When I was in college, I went the sideline learning how to sell things on eBay, develop software that would help me search eBay listings to find what to buy and sell, and then even the software itself sold to researchers so they could do the same.
It’s funny – I did a very similar sideline in college. I regularly bought items to resell on eBay and Amazon, making about $ 2,000 a month in the process. It was a great part-time job to earn extra money in my spare time.
When you go to college it can be overwhelming to think about the future. You’re just trying to settle into your dorm room, get into your class, figure out your schedule, and make new friends.
But it’s so important to consider what it means to be successful in college. There is a huge overlap between money, educational success, and career success. In college they are closely related and you need to weigh all of the factors that contribute to lifelong success.
The last thing you want is to be financially burdened by bad decisions (or just uneducated decisions) you made in college. Trust me.