Building Wealth in College: Part 1
I want to bury the stereotype of the poor college student. Students like to live in the moment (the reason for the stereotype) and often make very poor financial choices because of their current desires. They are known for moving away from home and thinking that they need a new car, flat screen TV, new wardrobe, you name it. That being said, it is actually possible to make strong decisions that will greatly benefit you in the long run, as a college student…it’s just that most don’t, As Dave Ramsey says, “If you will live like no one else, later you can LIVE like no one else.” If you can make a small sacrifice now, later on, it will serve you well. I am going to be discussing this topic of Building Wealth in College for the next few weeks, in segments, and my sincere hope is that you will grasp ahold and start building your wealth now, even though you may not have a steady job and income. There are a few things that will help you set a good foundation for your wealth – follow them and you’re smart. Don’t follow them and you will fall into the stereotype and become “normal”—debt-ridden and not financially independent.
Part 1: Choosing the Right School
I have developed this opinion: the choice that you make on where to attend college will be the single most important financial choice that you will make in your lifetime. Most people would argue that buying a home or a car would be the most important choice, but I am not one of them, and let me tell you why. Picking a college is the FIRST major decision you will make with your money in your life. Few people understand the toxicity of debt, but let me tell you, choosing a college is dangerous because we oftentimes let our emotions get involved. Lots of students make college choices based on athletics, like I have said in my book, but even more common than that is a student’s choosing a school because of an emotional disconnect with their parents. They often desire to move as far away as possible, for various reasons, which results in two things: out-of-state tuition, and a big fat student loan.
There are many aspects that go into picking a college that is right for you. I speak about this all the time. When you allow this decision to be logical, not emotional, it becomes a simple choice, which you should base on the following guidelines, in this order:
- Does this college/university have the major that you would like to pursue? I have known for several years that I was going to pursue a business major. However there was a point in my life that I wanted to be a TV weather man, and a major in meteorology is not as common as you would think.
- Is this university affordable and are the costs worth the degree? This can be a sticky subject, but here is my blunt opinion: IT DOES NOT MATTER WHERE YOUR UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE COMES FROM. If you are becoming a doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, etc., it becomes acceptable to spend a little bit more getting your masters or doctorate degree. But for a bachelor’s degree, you are going to get generally the same education as long as you go to an accredited university inside of the United States. Why do you think they are accredited? Because they all meet the same standards…also known as: they give you the same education. Why would you pay more?!
- Is the atmosphere what you want? Obviously, you have to add the human element to the decision, and that is also an important part. You are going to be at college for the next four years, so you should pick somewhere that you will be okay waking up in every morning. Also, a HUGE mistake in choosing college is picking based on where your friends or boyfriend/girlfriend is going or which school has the best parties. Also, you should consider the distance from your parents/guardians. Most likely, you will need financial support of some type during college, and being within a day’s drive of home is always a good plan.
This college choice is the basis for your financial future, and you should make sure to pick one that won’t bury you in debt. Keep in mind that when you get out of college, you get an entry-level salary once you find a job. Entry-level salaries are not enough to support your needs and your student loans. Make a plan now, see it through, and you are well on your way to building substantial wealth through college.
Article written by Zachary Freeman, a Business Finance major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He can be reached at Zachary@freemoneyplease.com.