I was the first person in my family to go to college. At least in a ‘regular’ way, at a young age! Both my parents attended college, but as fully mature adults.
My mom decided to go to college after she and my father divorced. Every once in a while, I would end up going to class with her.
While she worked on her degree, I worked on my second-grade homework.
Fast forward 10 years, and I found myself graduating from high school at age 17 and making my way to a college that I had never seen before, but that had awarded me a lot of money. There was no way I wouldn’t attend.
I was the first kid in my family to take the traditional route to college.
I studied AP English and history, did too many extra-curricular activities to count, and was incredibly prepared – except when it came to one huge thing: money.
I had no idea of all of the money-related issues that would come up, and no one in my family was aware of the financial issues that I would face.
Before You Arrive
You will begin experiencing the costs of attending college up to two years before you arrive. Students will start paying for standardized tests, and they’ll shell out hundreds of dollars just to submit college applications.
Before taking the SAT, see if you are eligible to receive a fee waiver for the test. According to the College Board website, if you are eligible for a fee waiver, you will also be eligible for four college application fee waivers for eligible schools. You will have to do some research to figure out which schools will waive the fee.
Once You’ve Applied
Start looking for as many scholarships as you possibly can. If you play the harmonica well, there just might be a scholarship waiting for you!
There are so many scholarships out there. Be the person who finds out about and applies for the random scholarships that you qualify for, and actually win the money because no one else thought about applying for them.
You can use apps like Scholly, developed by Christopher Gray, to help you find scholarships that are right for you.
Lack of Financial Skills
Lacking financial skills made me easy prey for credit card companies who enticed students with t-shirts, backpacks, and other useless stuff that we thought was necessary at the time.
Many schools now have offices dedicated to helping students manage their finances, so don’t feel weird if you lack money management skills. Start with the financial aid department to see what money management resources you can access on campus. Begin reading personal finance blogs and websites like CentSai.
Holidays Cost Money
I never returned home during my college years because it cost money to fly, and I didn’t have any money to spare. I did visit a friend’s home in NYC (I went to college in New York State). But I never imagined that I would never see home for four years due to my lack of money.
The problem with staying on campus during the holidays is that many universities will shut down the majority of their dormitories to cleaning and fix things.
You will typically be given notice about this, but many students may find themselves scrambling for a place to stay when the dorms are closed. Fortunately, I almost always lived in dorms that were open during the holidays.
The other issue with staying on campus during the holidays is that the majority of the dining halls will close, as well. So you may find yourself having to eat during very limited hours of the day, and you may need to purchase and prepare your own food, even if you have a campus meal plan.
It was tough being a broke kid on campus, but I now know that I wasn’t the only one. Hopefully, these tips will help you anticipate and avoid the financial pitfalls that I experienced in college because I had no one to show me the way. Now you have some guidance!