7 Mistakes I Made When I Went to College

I recently read a post by Personal Finance Advice, Why Getting a Degree Isn’t Always a Sound Financial Decision. I thought it was a well written post that presented a valid point. Do not get me wrong…I am a strong advocate for college education. However, this post did remind me about my college days, and prompted me to write about the 7 mistakes that I made when I went to college.

1. Not considering the return on investment

Education is like any other investment — i.e., there are good ones and bad ones. Aside from your house, this is probably the second biggest investment you will be making. The problem was that my heart was set on going to an Ivy League school, and I stupidly turned down full scholarship to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (a top notch school). In short, I was young and irresponsible with money (my parents’ money). If I went to Ann Arbor instead I would have saved them about $20,000 a year (after scholarship and financial aids), and that was in 1991. If I had instead saved and invested that money, it would be worth about $265,000 today (at modest 8% annualized gain).

Was my Ivy League education worth $265,000? Definitely not! I do not think I would make any less money today, if I had gone to Ann Arbor.

2. Not following my heart

My passion always has been with computer. My first computing experience was with the Commodore 64. I was a computer geek in high school — i.e., I was on the varsity PASCAL programming team. How much more geeky can I get?

Unfortunately, I did not follow my heart, but instead tried to pursue a more prestigious medical career (note: Asians think very highly of doctors). As a result, I did not give it everything I got because my heart was not there.

3. Not changing my major

Did I tell you I was on the Dean’s List the first year? People on this list got a letter that basically said: “If you do this poorly again, you are out. We will be keeping an eye on you!” Even after I struggled for a whole year, I did not take the time to reflect what really went wrong. I was just plain stubborn.

I think things would have turned out much better if I had just changed from a Biochemistry to a Computer Science major after the first year.

4. Not taking enough classes

If you are a full-time student, you basically pay the same amount of money regardless if you take 12 credits per semester (the minimum), 16-18 credits (what I think is the optimum), or 20+ credits (a little insane in my opinion). I was taking on average 30 credits per year, instead of the more aggressive 36 credits. As such, I was paying about $660 per credit as opposed to $550.

If this was any other product, would you willingly choose to pay more? I am sure the answer is no.

5. Not dropping classes that suck

Because I did not register for enough classes in the first place, I was unable to drop any class that I thought was entirely uninteresting (usually because of the professor), or completely insane (too difficult). Yes, even top schools have their share of brilliant professors who cannot teach to save their lives. I still remember a professor who said “ums” about 300 times in a 55 minutes lecture. She was very intelligent and knew her subject very well; I just could not stand listening to her.

As a result, my grade suffered and further reduced my morale. Now, I understand why it is good to register for 20+ credits per semester. Basically, you are giving yourself free “outs” in case they are needed.

6. Not paying enough attention

Because I did not have the flexibility to drop the classes that I did not like, I ended up not paying attention — e.g., day dream inside my classes or dreaming at home while the class is in session. Normal classes are about 12 hours of lecture per credit. Since I was paying about $660 per credit, I threw away $55 every time I missed a class.

7. Not taking advantage of everything that was available to me

I went to a very big university, so there were a lot of extracurricular activities, volunteering and internship opportunities, and many more amenities. However, I was suffering all the way around because I did not do well in school. As a result, I did not take advantage of all the available opportunities.

Again, I short changed myself!

That said, I did go back to school again to get my Masters degree, and it was an excellent experience, because I learned my lessons and avoided all the mistakes above.

About the Author

By , on Aug 10, 2007
Pinyo is the owner of Moolanomy Personal Finance. He is a licensed Realtor specializing in residential homes in the Northern Virginia area. Over the past 20 years, Pinyo has enjoyed a diverse career as an investor, entrepreneur, business executive, educator, and financial literacy author.

Leave Your Comment (7 Comments)

  1. kody says:

    i do believe in school, but i also believe that its not for everyone. I fell in on mistake number 2 also. I should have listened to my heart when i graduated high school.Ive always wanted to blog for a living, and that’s what i plan on doing for the rest of my life, if not ill die trying 😉

    What i don’t get is why almost everyone in this world goes down the same path? Everyone goes to COLLEGE to get a job. Why is that? Don’t you think college is the easy way out?

  2. Jane says:

    Pinyo were you in the Ag school like I was? I thought going to Cornell was the best decision I made (and I had to support myself through it via work study) because the ALS was state subsidized. I got an Ivy League education at state school prices. Of course if I’d have gotten a full scholarship elsewhere, I’d attend that. I did actually get a partial scholarship at another private school but turned it down.

  3. sucker says:

    Man sound a lot like my first 1 yr of college, i was 1st in my family to attend college and i blew it… 🙁

    ans got stuck @ C.C. for 3 yr and didn’t talk to my 4 yr college friends…just because i didn’t get mt 4 yr degree..even C.C. staff got tired of me… 🙂

  4. Pinyo says:

    I think #2 is the most important one on the list. At least you DID switch. I didn’t get to do what I wanted until I went back for my Masters.

  5. Lauren says:

    #2 was the one I fell into. I entered as business because I thought it would be the most stable even though I love computers. 2 years later I switched to Digital Media and lost a lot of courses in the transition.

  6. Pinyo says:

    Plonkee – welcome to Moolanomy and thank you for your comment!

    Yes, I did learn from college both academic and life lessons. I also became friends with many good people, and had my moments of joy. That said, things could have been better. 🙂

    Lastly, I think it is better to earn less and do what you love.

  7. plonkee says:

    To be honest, I don’t think of education in the same way that you do. I think that is because I’m from the UK and we have distinctly different funding arrangements.

    My point is however, that you have clearly learnt from college. It is more important to learn from mistakes than from successes.

    I had a wonderful time at university and I wound up picking a career that I love. If I had chosen a different (and harder) post-college career I could be earning (literally) twice the money. But its not all about the money.

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