Melanie, from DearDebt.com, is back with 4 tips that should be part of every college curriculum but sadly the topic of personal finance is grossly overlooked in classrooms from kindergarten to post-docs. If you want to be featured at Vosa.com, please contact me today.
Graduating college can be one of the most exciting times of your life. After four plus years of studying, working hard, taking exam after exam, graduation can seem like a nice culmination point for you to start the next chapter of your life.
I remember after I graduated college, I was so excited. I vowed to never take another test, or take a boring general education class. I also vowed to take everything I learned in college and apply it to my life and career.
Shortly after the dopamine started to wear off, I realized I had to adjust to a new routine and create a new life. I was no longer in the safe bubble of school, but I had entered the scary “real world.” I was no longer able to survive on my student loans, which I’d have to pay back soon enough.
When I graduated college, I had ideas of how things worked. If you worked really hard, people would notice you. My degree spoke for itself and having a Bachelor’s degree and work experience meant something. But the first six months after graduation were tough; I felt like I learned many lessons during that time.
Here are 4 things I wish I knew then:
1. Your Work Experience and Network Are More Important Than Your Degree
I always thought that having a degree was enough. I worked so hard and got in all this debt for something, right? Throughout college, I had always worked. I worked a variety of different jobs: HR Assistant, Telemarketer, Cashier, Teaching Artist, and Program Assistant. The last two positions in the list were found quite by accident.
I saw a sign promoting a scholarship geared towards students majoring in the arts. I had already felt somewhat disenchanted with theatre and the politics in the department, but extra money sure sounded nice. The scholarship was for students to gain valuable teaching experience in low-income schools. I applied, and I got it!
I learned how to create lesson plans, deal with different age groups, and engage students and promote creativity. It was awesome! I did so well as a teaching artist that I was asked to help out on the administrative side of the program. All of this happened so quickly, and it happened the very last semester of school. I learned so much, and it was concrete experience related to my degree.
After I graduated college, I got my first career job in arts administration, in large part because of my work experience with these two jobs. The organization was impressed that I had worked throughout college and had real-life experience to do the job. Many of my friends who chose not to work throughout college had a harder time finding a job. It was then I realized that your work experience and network are worth so much more than your degree. That’s not to say that your degree is pointless – it’s still an asset, but in conjunction with working, and valuable connections, it can be worth so much more. My advice to new grads is to really focus on your work experience and tapping your network to find your next opportunity.
2. Know How Much You Owe and What Entity Services Your Loan
When I graduated, I knew that I had student loans to pay back. I had a rough idea of what I owed and not a clue about how to pay them back, or who my loan servicer was. The mandatory exit counseling was only so helpful. I waited until after I graduated to figure all this stuff out and I was in for a rude awakening.
After much research, calls, and digging, I finally figured out who my loan servicer was and how to create an account to see my balance and start paying back my student loans. I logged in and found out I owed $23,000. I was shocked to see how much the interest had affected the final balance, as I was sure my loans were under $20k. Ultimately, I wish I knew all this stuff sooner. Empower yourself and understand who the key players are when it comes to your student loan and your financial situation. You will put yourself on much better footing if you do that.
3. Don’t Rush Into Things
It can be easy to get excited about graduating and jump at opportunities right away. For me, that happened with housing. I lived with my parents throughout college as we lived right across the street from the university. As I was taking out student loans for the cost of the education, I figured I could save some money by staying at home. Shortly after graduation, I found a new place to live closer to my boyfriend at the time. I didn’t tell anyone and just did it – all by myself. I was an adult and I wanted to prove I could figure it out on my own.
I moved into my new place with roommates that I met off CraigsList. After three blissful weeks of living there, I came home and found a note that the main tenant, who was the only one on the lease (problem #1) was moving back to the East Coast, and that new tenants were moving in to take over the lease at the end of the month. We had to move out NOW. I was scrambling for a place to live, and one of my new co-workers said she could use some help with rent and invited me to live with her. A few months later my boyfriend dumped me, and my roommate/co-worker started becoming increasingly hostile. It was a messy situation that wasn’t well thought out.
I was so eager to move out, live near my boyfriend and be an “adult.” To me being an adult is about making the best decisions for yourself, and not rushing into haphazard opportunities because they seem nice in the moment. Think about things in the short-term and long-term!
4. Start Saving. NOW!
I know this topic is beaten to death, but it’s so true. When you are 22, you have so much time on your side to start saving. I started an automated savings plan, at 22, which helped me get through some of the messy situations in my younger years. Oftentimes, my savings was the only thing that saved me from moving back home and begging my parents for money. I was and am fiercely independent and don’t want to rely on anyone. The one thing I didn’t do was start saving for retirement. My job offered a 401(k), but with no match. I thought it wasn’t worth it, and didn’t even know that IRAs existed (they do, by the way). Start saving now, even if it’s only 1%. Automate it so you don’t even realize it’s gone.
With your new degree and these practical tips – you can start to enjoy your post collegiate life and set yourself up for an awesome future!
Melanie blogs about breaking up with debt at DearDebt.com and invites others to write breakup letters to their debt as well. She’s accumulated a total of $81k in student loan debt between two degrees. Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. Melanie enjoys travel, art, music, adventure, and of course, personal finance
What am I missing here? What is a great tip for a new college grad? Please leave a comment below. Thanks!