Dear Freshman Me:
It has been more than 10 years since I was a freshman in university so when someone asked me what advice I would give to someone going into college I decided to write a letter to myself. These are some things I wish I had done differently and some things that I am so grateful that I decided to do while I was a student. Since I just paid off my student loan debt a lot of the lessons have to do with money!
- Apply to As Many Scholarships as You Can Find
Scholarships are free money! You might want to start looking for scholarships that you think you might be able to apply to in your junior year because some of them require a lot of effort to get. Make a visit to your high school guidance counselor, talk to the public librarians at your local library (they are fantastic at finding things), look for magazines geared toward teens that have scholarship information, and if there is a statewide site for scholarships become very familiar with it! In Oregon, you can use the OSAC website to apply to tons of scholarships all at once. Remember, every scholarship dollar is one less dollar that you will need to take out in the form of a student loan!
- Pay Careful Attention to Your Loan Amount and Try to Take Less
Your financial aid package will most likely give you the option of taking out a lot of student loans. Try to make your own budget and decide if you REALLY need all of that money. I can almost guarantee you that you could take out less than they say you need. I really wish I had taken out less money. Remember that every dollar you take out now you will have to pay interest on in the years to come. A small scholarship of $3000 that I took out ended up taking me over 10 years to pay off because I had so much interest that compounded over time.
- Get a Part Time Job and Start Snowflaking the Student Loan Interest
I had a work study job that only allowed me to work about 8 hours a week. I distinctly remember watching a whole season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in one week my freshman year so I know for a fact that I could have worked more hours. After you have paid for your books, food, and gave yourself a tiny bit of money for entertainment, put anything leftover toward your student loan interest. I never did this and I definitely regretted it later. Some loans don’t charge interest while you are in school, but many do, so if yours does try to pay as much as you can as soon as you can. Every little bit you can throw at the student loans while you are in school will mean less interest later.
- Cook Your Own Food
That first year in college is usually spent in a dorm room (unless you were smart and lived in a tiny off-campus apartment that you shared with other people for half the cost) where there was a healthy food plan available. After freshman year, most people move off campus and start fending for themselves. I saw people subsisting on potato chips and soda and they were always hungry and cranky later in class and wondered why. Make your own food! If you are going to eat instant ramen, throw an egg in it along with a handful of dried seaweed or maybe some thinly sliced mushrooms. You can make your dollar stretch a lot further if you skip Taco Bell and make your own black bean, rice, and cheese burritos. If you are feeling fancy you can add some tomato and lettuce. It isn’t hard and one 16oz bag of beans can last me a whole week and it will only cost about $1.50. It is cheaper and it will make you feel better if you can make your own food.
- Make Friends
Go out and talk to people. Join a club so you can meet people with the same interests. Show up to the group study sessions. Go to campus events. Some of my favorite college memories are from the time I spent volunteering with the International Student Association (even though I was a little white girl who was born and raised in Oregon); you can join groups even if they sound like they are meant for other demographics. You will meet people, make friends and keep them if you check in on each other now and then. I’ve traveled with college friends, volunteered with them, and even house sit later for them. Many people later network with these friends to obtain jobs in the future too.
So that about sums it up for me. Get free money. Don’t take more than you need. Pay your loan off as soon as you can and start with any little bit that you can afford WHILE you are in school. Cook your own food. Make friends and keep them.
What do you wish you could tell your freshman self? Post your comments below!