Welcome to Punch Debt University

August 29, 2011 · 29 comments

Today is the first day of the new school year at my Alma Mater. I figured it was only appropriate to kick the school year off with some “Do’s and Dont’s” for all college students to consider. Hope you enjoy :)

Do look in to going to a public school. I made the decision to go private and man oh man did I pay for that choice. My school ran about $30k/yr, quite a bit different than the $5K-10k/yr public school options. Looking back I wish I would have considered going to a state school. It’s okay though, I don’t regret my choice as I had the best four years of my life, but I SHOULD have explored public options more carefully.

Don’t drop out. Yeah that’s right. If you start college…finish. I can’t tell you how many kids I went to school with that didn’t come back after the first year. They paid $30K for that one year, and don’t have a degree to show for it. School can be hard, life happens, and money will be an issue, but you better do everything in your power to make sure you graduate from somewhere, even if it’s PDU (Punch Debt University).

Do work part time. I don’t care if you are working 5hrs/wk or 40hrs/wk, but try and make some money. I know, being a full time student can be stressful, but I bet part of that stress comes from being broke. You don’t need to be earning enough to contribute to a Roth IRA (although that would definitely be sexy), I just want you to be able to cover the majority of your personal expenses (food, clothes, school stuff, etc). It also will give you something to put on your resume come graduation time. Think about it, if you were on a hiring panel would you hire someone who graduated college with a 3.5 GPA and no work experience or someone with a 3.5 GPA who also had a job during those four years? I’m going with the latter.

Don’t use that fricken credit card you signed up for. Yeah, that’s right. I’ve been watching you. Some dude at a booth said “Hey fill out an application for this credit card and we will give you this frisbee” and you filled it out didn’t you…DIDN’T YOU!? I too took advantage of a “free shirt” offer, but I actually lied on the application and input all fake info (which I think is actually a crime, but I didn’t know it at the time). Fortunately, I never accumulated a credit card balance while in school and you need to do the same. This is a non-negotiable. Credit cards can not be the means by which you provide yourself food and textbooks.

Do get good grades. Sounds like a no brainer right? But are you really applying yourself in all of your classes. I sure didn’t. In fact I got an A in Organic Chemistry, but a B in Introduction to Art. I picked and chose which classes I wanted to succeed in and where I was okay falling short. I wish I could go back in time and try just a little bit harder. When you graduate your GPA is going to be a huge bartering tool for you. Yes, your college GPA will become less important as you establish yourself in the work place, but until that time comes, it is your most valuable asset. If you graduated with honors don’t be shy about telling your prospective employers about it during an interview. It shows that you are dedicated to working hard and doing well.

Don’t grow up too fast. If you are the typical 20-something college student you have a responsibility requirement to act like it. Have fun. Pull stupid pranks on your dorm mates. Stay up really late and watch movies. Once you graduate college, you have to enter the 9-5 world, and let me tell you… it ain’t pretty. Midnight burrito runs are a thing of the past. Enjoy the college lifestyle.

Do take advantage of EVERYTHING your school has to offer. I was heavily involved in various college activities. Sporting events, clubs, organizations, all at your fingertip. There are so many FREE programs available to college students, you would have to be stupid to not take advantage of them. You aren’t stupid, are you?

So there ya have it, some of my thoughts on the college experience. Take them with a grain of salt as they are only my opinions, and according to Girl Ninja, my opinion means nothing.

I’d love to get some more input on today’s post (especially if you are a college student)

1) For those in school, what year are you and where do you go?

2) For those that have graduated, any other Do’s or Dont’s you would add to the list?

3) Any other advice, support, or comments you would like to mention?

1 20 and Engaged

Great tips Ninja! I took a break from college but plan on going back next semester.

I should be a senior at Cal State Long Beach, but I didn’t finish my sophomore year and took my junior year off. Who knows where I am.

I would like to add look for support/help before a problem gets too big.

2 Nurchamiel

Oh, yes school. Right in the middle of it. 3rd year, colloge. I’m dutch and I’m going to a public college. I’m in the life sciences field. At the first year, I guess that 75% dropped out. Now, the tuition was about 1600 in the first year, now a bit like 1800 so it isn’t that high as in the USA. But still, money wasted and angry labpartners (seriously, dropping out a life science study is very stressful for the people you are working with).

I have never looked into private schools, they are not that common in the Netherlands. It just went with my favourite college, took a list of all of the studys they give and just crossed the ones I didn’t like on first sight. After the first run, I got myself some information, crossed some more. Got more information, went to visit the school and the stuff they teach there, crossed again and finally I came up with the Life Science thing.

I also agree that you should participate in a lot of free things. Sportclubs are very good for your health (and mostly, very cheap), some executive functions in some kind of club are very, very sexy on a resume. Also, voluntary or charity work is very, very sexy. Right now, I’m involved in a first aid organisation, a win – win, because I get the experience I need for my work later, and I can put some stuff on my resume. Even if you aren’t a type of person that doesn’t party a lot, there are still tonnes of clubs that you can join.

Thank god that I’m to damn lazy to apply for a credit card – I still use my debit card and I’m planning my future finances that I first save for something, and then pay for – even a house.

3 cashflowmantra

Great advice. I would add that when you do work, don’t work the overnight shift, get off at 6 am and schedule a 7:30 class. Or at least don’t think you will nap for 30 minutes and then wake up. It doesn’t happen.

4 Tiffany

Take full advantage of the free campus activities and meals that many schools offer. I have been able to watch movies, attend concerts and sporting events and travel (locally) for free thanks to some of the activities my University offered. I also became very good at figuring out where the free pizza and late night snacks were going to be.

5 slug | sunkcostsareirrelevant.com

Do network. Most of the people at the school will graduate and many will go on to be successful. The more of these people you know, the easier it will be to learn about new opportunities down the road.

And, if experts in your area of interest are coming to campus, go to see what they have to say. Meet them if you can. Hell, volunteer to be the one who picks them up at the airport and drives them back. You’ll be the first person they meet and the last one they’re encountering. How’s that for a primacy and recency double bonus!

6 Allie

Along with looking at state schools, I’d add “Look at in-state schools!” I was hell-bent on getting at least a couple hours away from home, and therefore primarily looked at state schools — in other states. That hurt almost as much as a private school education would have. Again, best four years of my life and wouldn’t change it, but I definitely should have done a little more research.

7 graduate.living

1. If you have a meal plan, use it. Yeah, it’s not as great as Taco Bell, but you’ve already paid for it…

2. Do things that put you outside your comfort zone and broaden your experiences. Talk to people who have different life experiences – particularly if you’re from a small town where everyone knew everyone else. Hit up that international student in your class and learn about their home country. Study abroad. Go to a talk sponsored by a political activist group on your campus – even if it’s not your politics. Learn how to navigate the world when it’s not filled with people exactly like you – it’s a mind blowing and very growthful experience.

8 Kim

That’s why you work at Taco Bell – for the free food! I worked at the fast-food cafe thing on campus, and later at Ruby Tuesday, and finally Chilis (moving up in the world!). Also I was so tired from waitressing on weekends (huge tip nights) that I didn’t party as much. Definitely a good move.

9 Skrizel

Don’t Drink excessively as it will get you in trouble. Binge drinking is more costly than you can imagine. Study at least 2 hours per day outside of class. Only get a job if you schedule allows, i played sports in college and had zero time for anything after practice. Do not work for campus admissions and give tours of the campus, that job sucks

10 Finding My Way

I can tell you I started at University, switched and got my diploma from college. But leaving university never left me (I’m Canadian). After 4.5 years out in the working world, I re-applied to my original school, transferred my college credits, and am now a hair’s breathe away fro my degree. If I could go back, I would have completed my degree right after my diploma, and delayed my entrance to the working world by a year and had both. Going part-time while working full-time is difficult. I think it would have been easier to do it all at once, instead of this way. Having said that, it’s something I covet. So, I’ll be working on it for another year after this one anyways.

The only other thing I would add to you list is DON’T assume that because you are getting an education it makes you better than your potential employer, and gives you the ability to start higher than the bottom of the organization. You will be able to show your worth and climb the ladder faster by adopting humility and a good work ethic. Learn all you can, apply what you can and move on if necessary. However a minimum of 2 years at your first place will allow you to learn and absorb as much as possible, and will show your commitment to working. Somtimes to dollar figure isn’t worth the stress.

11 kim

What’s the difference between university and college? There’s no difference in the US.

12 Jen

1. DONT use a credit card for fun stuff! Get a part time job and don’t spend more than you earn on those fun things. Sure, I have a heck of a ton of student loans, but even paying my $500/semester income toward that debt would not have put a noticeable dent in the $10-15,000/semester I had in loans. Instead, I used my cash flow to finance all the fun stuff you’re supposed to do in college – order late night Wings Over Ithaca, drink (and drink and drink), buy clothes (after I lost 20 lbs hiking around our hilly campus).

2. DO get internships! I managed to land two local engineering internships (one for a private company and one for a city) during the school year. I arranged my classes to MWF so I could work a full day Tuesdays and Thursdays. It helped me follow rule #1 (they were paid internships), and gave me really valuable experience that helped me land a job as the economy was exploding all around me.

3. DO take jobs that you might not ever take again. I took a summer job working for NYPIRG because I was terrified of talking to strangers, and even more terrified of asking them for money. I knew I needed to get over it, so I spent the summer learning how to ask for money from strangers, and get them to give it to me!

13 eef

DO figure out what you want to major in BEFORE you take all of the wrong classes. If I could go back and do it again, I would have stayed in school longer to graduate with a degree I could use (or taken a break to figure out what I wanted to do with my life before entering junior year) instead of majoring in communication and being unemployable after graduation.

14 Melissa Z

I would add to that DO consider what kind of jobs/future your major will get you- just because you enjoy all the classes for a certain major, does not mean you will like working in that field.

15 Happy Homeowner

DO look into options for becoming a Resident Assistant. Free housing + free meal plans + work/leadership experience for the resume = substantial savings/$$ back into your pocket. This was one of the best decisions of my college years!

16 Roger

DO consider ROTC or whatever the equivalent in your country may be, if any.

DON’T major in Mesopotamian Basket Weaving unless you’ve got a really compelling reason.

17 Harri @ TotallyMoney

Love this post!

DO find work that’s flexible. Your first ports of call on your job hunt should be on-campus. The money’s often better than average, your employers are more understanding and there’s a bit of room to tweak hours if that essay deadline’s a bit too close for comfort.

DO join anything that takes your fancy. Even if it’s completely random/ridiculous. Societies, sport and activities will never be that cheap again.

DON’T beat yourself up if you find things difficult or you’re struggling (academically, socially or even mentally). You won’t be the first student to struggle at uni and there are people on campus who can help you.

18 Amanda

All great tips! I would also recommend going to a community college for your first two years and then transfer to a public university. Community colleges are cheaper and many states guarantee admission to public universities in your state after graduating at the community college, this is another great way to save money on college. I worked part time my first two years of college and full time for the last two years. Also, do good in high school to try to get scholarships and take AP (advanced placement) classes while in high school to get college credit to skip a couple of classes and shorten your time in college, you can also CLEP some classes if you think you could pass the test.

19 Honey

Apply for every scholarship you hear about…there are SO MANY, and they look great on a resume as well. After awhile, you start getting scholarships just because of other scholarships. I distinctly remember going to financial aid because I got money for a scholarship I’d never heard of. The woman was like, “you’re getting money and you don’t even know WHAT FOR?!”

I was Greek in college and loved it. Greeks have higher GPAs than unaffiliated students, more opportunities for leadership and volunteer experience, and the alum club after you graduate is SUCH a great resource – any time I have moved to a new city I have just emailed them and had a support system instantly. Amazing.

20 Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager

To add to a couple of your suggestions. Work on campus, that way you don’t have to worry about traveling to and from work, plus most on campus jobs are sympathetic to midterms and finals. Not only take advantaged of all the opportunities offered by your school, but get involved and leave a legacy.

21 krantcents

Private university have advantages too. State budget cuts will not lenghten your time in school, they generally have lower teacher/student ratios. and you may receive a better education.

22 Deena Dollars

I agree with this – private schools often give killer scholarships and aid, and it’s worth applying to both types of schools to see which will actually be cheaper for you. I don’t think public is always better hands down; it is worth comparison shopping. I went to a private school on a scholarship, graduated with no debt, but have had tons of networking opportunities. Don’t assume the sticker price of a school is what you will actually pay.

23 Alyssa

So I read through all the comments and there were no students that are in college! I’m a sophmore at Texas Tech. I’d like to think I’m doing okay. This semester I’m taking 19 credit hours (the most that you can at Tech) and also working at a dining hall on campus. Bonus for me because I get to eat whenever I work which saves on the food costs. I also moved off campus into an apartment because it was cheaper but it’s a less convienient. Thanks for the advice Ninja!

24 LLF

DO get student loans. This does not mean that you spend you part-time work money frivolously, but it will take some pressure off. Interest is deffered so you can save up some EF money in the meantime.

DO study abroad. This is a best time to enjoy living else where. Just make sure you study.

I would disagree a little on the DON’T use a credit card. I would say learn to use a credit card wisely. Just like if you live at school you have to manager your time and freedom so you don’t fail your classes, you have to manage your money so you pay your credit card in full every month. You should know what you have in the bank and if you don’t have the cash in the bank to pay for it, don’t buy it with credit card either.

25 Melissa

DO NOT get pregnant, or get someone pregnant. I did right before starting ASU and it ended up taking 12 years to finish. Babies take your time and your money. I could have been done sooner but chose not to do student loans.

26 Nikki

DO go to class. I don’t care if the prof sucks or just reads the PowerPoint slides, it’s an hour of reviewing the material that, let’s face it, you won’t do on your own. You paid for the provoked of learning this stuff, so learn it.

If you’re a science type, DO consider careers other than medicine. There are a ton of health-related careers that are equally rewarding (emotionally), pay pretty darn well, and involve a lot less investment of time and money.

27 Red

Good tip! They say at UTK attendance is 95% of success. It’s SO TRUE. When I smartened up and started attending class every day, I made straight As. That extra review of the material is really helpful.

28 Red

I’m a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I would just add to your first DO that in addition to attending a public school over private school, prospective college students should look into doing their first two years at a local community college. I know they have a stigma attached to them, and they’re definitely not the college experience we all enroll for (according to people I know who have attended). But my friend Amy did her first two years at a community college and got all of her basic requirements out of the way for about 1/3 the cost of UTK. Then she transferred to UTK to finish her bachelor’s degree. She’ll have a degree from the same school but at a significantly lower price tag. It’s really a no brainer.

One of my costliest mistakes (the one that led me into $3,500 of credit card debt) was moving out into an apartment after my sophomore year. I didn’t anticipate bills being so high, groceries being so expensive, etc. I used credit cards to feed myself after making a tuition payment that left me broke. When I did the math, the dorms were cheaper (because we weren’t required to have a meal plan) than an apartment. Even though it’s nice to have the privacy, I still tell any person looking to get an apartment while in school that, unless you can juggle the responsibilities of school, a job, and bills, you should really save apartment living for after graduation.

29 Cherleen @ yesiamcheap

What did I do to save on my college expenses? I took a part-time job, stayed on a dorm, applied for different scholarship grants, and studied hard for higher grades. It’s difficult, especially juggling between work and study time but all the sacrifices are definitely worth it.

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