Let’s not kid ourselves: college is expensive. Virtually all forms of higher education are. Even if you manage to get a number of scholarships to your school of choice, even affording to live near or inside of your college can be a massive problem. Of course, this inevitably means that most college students end up being “college poor”- and largely for no reason. With that being said, here are 5 ways to, for the next semester and beyond, save a little bit of money and afford something more than ramen noodles every night.
1. Take Advantage of Student Discounts
This is a fairly obvious tip, but few people realize it: in your average college town, a huge number of retailers and stores have some form of a “college discount” program to attract college dollars, something you should take advantage of as much as possible. From clothing retailers such as J.Crew to even grocery stores, a lot of places openly (or sometimes secretly) carry discount plans for those willing to show their student ID cards. Bigger purchases also count- if your university has deals with the respective companies, oftentimes computer companies such as Apple and Lenovo will offer discounts, as well as software companies such as Microsoft. While not entirely a discount, oftentimes banks and insurance companies will partner with colleges to offer better deals to students (though admittedly sometimes the deals are atrocious- do your research). Do not be embarrassed to ask for a discount virtually everywhere you go- though it doesn’t seem like much, it does make a big difference down the road.
2. Take Summer Courses, Aim for an Early Graduation
Unless you are in a major program that absolutely requires it, graduating in 3 years (or in 3 1/2) is far from impossible. Though it’s considered normative to stick it out through the traditional four years of schooling, graduating even a semester early is a very nice break from tuition, not to mention a nice way to get started with your job or grad school earlier. The easiest way to graduate earlier (other than simply taking a ton of courses each semester) is to take summer courses, which are often leagues better courses for much less money, if you can stomach not having a summer break. As many have found, summer classes (in virtually every discipline) are often much more relaxed, easier, and often more personal than their normal-semester counterparts, and they make graduating early incredibly easy. Do your research.
3. Live Off-Campus
This largely depends on the location and type of your institution, but many tend to find that living off-campus (even a couple miles away) can be leagues cheaper than staying in a dormitory. While this sounds rather ironic (one would think that being crammed in a tiny room would be cheaper), many colleges and universities in the US tack on quite a big price for what is largely a small hole in the wall- check what is available to you off-campus. When doing your research, remember to consider the cost of staying on campus as a package- not only what it costs you in terms of the dorm fee itself, but also associated food costs, living costs, and the like- it may be much more than you initially would suspect.
4. Buy Books Off Campus
This is a biggie virtually every upperclassman knows: as much as humanly possible, do not under any circumstances purchase books from a campus bookstore. Campus bookstore textbooks are infamous at any university for being overpriced and arbitrarily new, meaning that you pay quite a bit of money for something you inevitable trash or sell off the next semester. This is quite a racket at a number of universities, who not only sell you a book for an inflated price, but offer low-ball “buyback” prices for the books which they sell again for the inflated price. Don’t contribute.
My recommended method? Once you get the names of the books (copy down the ISBN numbers from the bookstore or contact the professor), go to a reputable online retailer such as Amazon.com, find the books, and then compare and contrast the prices available for the used versions of the books. For retailers like Amazon with sub-retailers, remember that sometimes bundling a few books from a similar location (i.e. one shipping cost) can be cheaper than buying slightly cheaper books from multiple retailers (i.e. a lot of shipping costs). Either way, you’ll save money.
5. Study something Worthwhile
This may be a bit late, but it’s the most obvious: study something worth going to college for.
This sounds quite morbid, but do it anyway: go to relevant sites with median salaries and look up what your degree is worth. Though your heart may be in something like Drama or Social Work, both of those degrees are ultimately very dangerous risks- especially in terms of paying back your college debts in the future. Like it or not, you have to be highly realistic about what you plan to do with yourself after your four-or-less years in college.
So, should everyone become Engineering majors? Of course not. Engineering is an incredibly difficult discipline for a select few. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t speculate and plan your own future. For most, the best option you can always pick for ensuring future earnings potential is to look into future education opportunities- professional degrees or graduate degrees. Professional and graduate degrees do not always guarantee money (lower tier law schools will actually harm you more than help you- “Go to Valpo, dine on Alpo”, etc), but that doesn’t mean you should find ways to further your worth in the job field.
In my opinion, however, regardless of your degree, the best thing you can do to ensure a relatively safe job hunt in the future is to simply get some experience and skill outside of college itself. Study as much as you can, but network, get to know people, and try to find part time jobs and internships- which often make you a much better candidate than any sort of studying.