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Monday, July 16, 2012

Surviving the College Experience – Part 1

This is the first of a two-part series on preparing for and surviving college from Ahson Hamid, a computer engineering major at the University of Michigan.  Ahson has worked as an IT Support assistant at Community Financial part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer since 2011.

College is a crucial time for everyone involved: students, parents, and even school faculty. Yes it’s difficult, yes it becomes difficult to manage time, yes you’ll have to deal with new responsibilities, and yes you will lose lots of sleep.
However, one of the most important things to do, well before arriving on campus, is to plan on making smart financial decisions. Simply paying the cost of tuition and books is a huge hurdle and living comfortably after that is an even bigger challenge. Here are a few guidelines to help you get through college with less stress and less debt:
  •       Find a job - College comes with a lot of unexpected costs and getting a job will help you address them.  It is also a great way to learn, a campus job can be a way to explore your interests. If you maximize your work hours during the summer and you may even be able to pay off a good chunk of the cost of one semester’s tuition!

  •       If you can survive without a loan, don’t borrow - If you take out a huge loan that lets you easily pay for all of your college expenses then, sure, four years will pass without too much stress. But, can you afford to pay back those loans when you graduate? What happens if you don’t have a job right after graduation or you have moving expenses? Interest is a pretty scary thing when you are talking about paying back such a large loan. So assess your needs.  If you can get by without a loan, that’s great, and it is nice to know loans are there if and when you need one.

  •       Find your passion, but do your research - You might love a particular subject and want to major in it, but during these economic times not all majors fare well upon graduation. The fact is you will need to get a real job after college. One suggestion is to mix your interests with more lucrative majors. For example, if you like working with people and are considering a sociology or psychology major, take a look at something related to business. Understanding people is an integral part of any managerial role. That’s just one example of knowing what your interests are and applying them in occupations that pay well. 

  •       Be realistic, but maximize your time - The best way to reduce your college cost is to graduate in 4 years; you will save both time and money.  The average college degree requires 120 credits to graduate but to do that in four years, you’ll need to take 14-16 credits each semester. While it is tempting to take 12 credits per semester, you would likely have to go to school another year to complete your degree.   One way to pace your class schedule is to take online or summer classes.  Taking pre-requisites over the summer may allow you to focus on your core classes during the school year and still graduate on time. 

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