Plonkee started the “best financial move you made in college” meme last month and I decided to tag myself. I’m very glad that I went to college. All of my best friends (except my husband) are people I met in college. Without my degree I would not have been accepted into the Peace Corps, nor would I have qualified for the corporate job I got after returning from the Peace Corps (and that job is where I met my husband, so it’s a good think I got it!). Currently I am self-employed in an insurance agency that my husband and I started on our own several years ago, and I’m on maternity leave from my job at the public library. Neither job requires a degree, but I think that the experiences and knowledge I gained in college will be an asset that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
That said, I sure am glad that I’m not still paying for my education ten years after the fact. When I started college, I was very unsure of what I wanted to do with my life – not unlike a lot of freshmen. Unfortunately, I was still unsure four years later when I graduated. I had about 170 credits by that time – far more than enough to graduate – amounting to a major in psychology with minors in math and economics. Dabbling in a bit of everything I suppose. My elective credits ranged from ballroom dance to astrophysics. I was truly undecided. I had my interview for the Peace Corps the day after I took the GRE my senior year – by that point I still didn’t know if I wanted to go to grad school or not, so I took the GRE just in case. But I soon decided that if the Peace Corps would have me, that’s the direction I wanted to take. I would not have been accepted without my degree, so even though I didn’t have a long term career path picked out, my degree set me on the right path at the start.
I spent the summers before and after my freshman year of college taking core classes at the community college in the town where my parents lived. I was living at home both summers, and was able to accumulate about 30 credits for basic classes like biology, chemistry, english composition – things that are required for every major. I can’t remember what the tuition was for those classes, but compared with the four year state college I was attending, it was nearly free. Having those classes done meant that I was able to take more classes during the school year when I would have otherwise needed to fill in core requirements – so it stretched my tuition dollars quite a bit. Definitely a good decision.
Another good decision was to apply for scholarships. I applied throughout my senior year in high school, and kept applying during college. The result was that my tuition was completely paid for, along with a little of my room and board expenses. Without scholarships, paying for college would have been a much bigger challenge. As it was, all I really had to keep up with was living expenses, which I kept to a bare minimum. As my brothers and sister went through high school they applied for even more scholarships than I did – my sister actually got paid to get her undergrad degree; she had so many scholarships that the school gave her back money each year. It always amazed me when I would meet people who hadn’t applied for any scholarships at all. You don’t have to be a genius or a star athlete to get free money for college. There are scholarships out there for just about everyone, but if you don’t apply, they won’t know you’re looking.
Taking classes at the community college and getting scholarships helped to keep my expenses down. So did not having a car (I biked, walked, or took the bus – a free bus pass was included with our student fees) and limiting my shopping to rare trips to the thrift store. I did get a credit card before my senior yaer, but I paid it off every month. I worked various jobs throughout college (including washing dishes in a dorm cafeteria and cleaning bathrooms in a grocery store – I was all about glamour…) and graduated in four years without any debt. There were lots of things that contributed to that end result, and I’m glad I made the decisions I did. Because I’m not so sure that I’d be as happy about my college experience if I were still paying for it.
Here are some best financial decisions in college from some other bloggers…