- Posted April 21, 2014 by
10 Things Every College Student Should Know
Who do you usually get your advice from? Your parents? Your teachers? Your friends? Have you ever received some really good advice from a person you just met? Earlier this year, I traveled to San Antonio, Texas to visit an old family friend. While I was there, I was introduced to my friend’s roommate, Michael. Michael is a thirty-two-year-old who graduated with his Masters in business administration and a concentration in finance. He is currently employed as a Mortgage Appraisal Analyst at Randolph Brooks Federal Credit Union. Michael and I, although not super close in age, became quick friends. He almost seemed like a father-type figure to me, and the night before I left San Antonio to head back home, Michael sat me down and gave me some really good advice. Although we had only known each other for about a week, he was still able to offer me some great insight and wisdom from his own life. While Michael talked, I fervently wrote down the knowledgeable instructions he gave. Afterward, I tucked the list away in my luggage and traveled back home. Today, I still have the list and looking at it carefully, I believe it holds the top ten things that every college student should know. If you are a college student, will be a college student in the future, or are just interested in some good advice, please read on and see the great advice Michael gave to me.
First of all, Michael stated that you should open an IRA account. Basically, this is an account that you save up for your retirement with. Try to save a minimum of fifty dollars in the account each month, he suggests. Refer to the Law of Compounding if you want to know why this is a good idea.
Secondly, take a self-defensive driving course. Once a year, enroll in a class either online or in your community. If you give your car insurance company proof that you completed a defensive driving course, they will lower your insurance—which will save you a whole lot of money.
Third, if you do not already own a credit card, Michael suggests you open one right away. If you do have a credit card currently, do not cancel it. Your credit history is tied to your first credit card, and you want to build up good credit over the years. Use your card wisely, and do not overspend with it.
According to Michael (who I swear is a genius, so this statistic must be true), ninety-five percent of Americans will undergo a catastrophic event at least once in ten years. This leads to the fourth piece of advice you should know: have an emergency fund. Whether it is in cash or in a savings account, you should keep aside some money that you can use in case of an emergency. Aim to have at least one thousand dollars stashed away.
Fifth, scrutinize every bill that you have. Try to find the best price on your cell phone, rent, car insurance, health insurance, etc. Research every company and every service. Do your homework and find the company that gives you the biggest bang for your buck. Although somewhat tedious, this research will save you a lot of money in the end.
The sixth piece of advice that Michael offered is about internships. Strive to work as many internships as possible while you are in college. Completing internships usually equals a solid job once you graduate college. Get connected to your school’s career service center, and try to find as many internships as possible. Paid internships are preferred, but be willing to take what you can get. Michael said he visited his career services so often, he was on a first name basis with the director of the center. Get connected and get your name out there.
Seventh, travel. Traveling is much easier while you are in college compared to when you are graduated. Go to Europe, see the Great Wall of China, climb the Rockies, and basically just get out there and explore. Take advantage of your school’s traveling events, go in groups with your friends, or travel over winter and spring break. Traveling is important if you want to expand your worldview and set yourself apart from others.
Michael’s eighth item on his list of advice is something I think every college students knows they should do, but very few actually do. This is simply applying for scholarships. Apply for as many as possible. Apply for anything that relates to your life or your field of study. Visit one of your school’s financial aid counselors and ask them about scholarships. There are many funds out there and people are willing to help you find them, you just have to ask.
Ninth, do not ever buy a brand new car. It is a complete waste of money (unless you are a millionaire and can afford to splurge). Purchase a car that is two years older from its current model. Make sure it has a manufacturer’s warranty for up to 100,000 miles and two years. Search consumer reports for the best vehicle in the class of vehicle you want. Michael recommended both Toyota and Honda as reliable makers.
Mike’s tenth tidbit of advice was a little hard to follow, but definitely very insightful. Once you graduate college and receive your first full-time job, you will have to set up your 401(k). This sounds like a big deal, and it is, but you just need to remember these simple instructions: make sure ninety-percent of your investment is in a mirror S&P 500 fund. Say that you would like a 401(k) that mirrors a S&P 500 fund, and you would prefer VFINX with a low expense ratio. For the other ten-percent of your funds, request them in liquid form (i.e. cash or treasure bonds). This sounds difficult, but once you and your employer start talking about your 401(k), it will all make sense. This is the last, but definitely not least, piece of advice Michael gave me.
If you are reading this sentence, congratulations! You have made it through the top ten things every college student should know. You are now much smarter, more informed, and hopefully ready to tackle the grown-up world.
One final reminder that overarches all of this advice is to simply do your homework—and I do not mean the kind of homework your professor assigns (although it is a good idea to do that, as well). Make sure you understand all ten of the items on this list. Do your own research and look up the things you learned in this article. Read books, call people, get out there, and find out the facts.
When I went to San Antonio to visit my friend, I certainly was not expecting to come back with so much knowledge about retirement funds and 401(k) plans. I am so thankful I met Michael in Texas, and even though we did not know each other that well at the time, I am so glad that he shared such great advice with me. I will remember this list of ten things and refer back to it for the rest of my life. So, the next time you meet a stranger who offers to give you some advice, sit back and listen—they might have some very wise things to say.