10 Tips for College Bound Students

10 Tips for College Bound Students

If you get a chance to talk to a college bound student, what advice would you give him or her? In this article, I am going to share a few tips based on my own experience. This article assumes that the student completed the application process and got accepted to a few schools.

Cornell University

Photo by Srevatsan via Flickr

Here are my 10 tips for college bound students:

  1. Understand the value of money. If your parents are sending you to college, spend time with them to understand the impact of your education on their finances, and your future finances. Ask them about the sacrifices they’ve made to save up for your college fund. This way, you’ll appreciate your education more. If you are sending yourself to college, I am sure you already understand the financial sacrifice.
  2. Go to less expensive school to save money. There’s nothing wrong with going to a less expensive school for your education. If you really want a degree from a “prestigious” school, you can always transfer later on.
  3. Practice simple living. There’s no need for a fancy apartment and expensive furnitures. College students tend to move a lot and you want to travel light. Having less stuff means an easier move back home or to a new apartment at the end of the semester. No moving van. No storage. Save money!
  4. Share your dorm room or apartment. Dormitory and college town apartments are exceedingly expensive since they are virtual monopolies. Try to do your best to share a dorm room or an apartment to lower your costs of living. Sacrifice now and you’ll have more money (or less debt) down the road.
  5. Register for a few extra classes each semester. There were a couple of times that I wish I could drop a class, but wasn’t able to because I would lose my full-time status. By registering for one or two extra classes, you could sit in one or two lectures and drop the ones that you don’t like.
  6. Take an extra class (or two) a semester. If you are capable of doing it, push yourself. By taking a few extra classes each semester, you could try to graduate a semester early or graduate with two degrees. This way you can save money on a semester worth of tuition, or get an extra degree out of the deal.
  7. Buy your textbooks later. Don’t buy textbooks until you’re sure won’t drop the class. When you’re ready to buy, look for used books on Textbooks.com or Amazon, or do a search for “used textbooks”. Never buy new books from the campus store if you can help it. By the way, sell your textbooks as soon as you’re done with them. These books become outdated and lose value quickly.
  8. Pay attention and don’t miss your classes. Depending on the school, you are paying close to a dollar a minute for your classroom time. If you miss an hour of class, you just pissed $60 down the toilet. Make sure you use what you’ve paid for.
  9. Stay local. Go to a college closer to home to save money on transportation expense. If you stay within 4-5 hours driving distance, you can avoid airfare. If you can cut that distance in half, you save 50% on gas and tolls.
  10. Establish you credit history early. College is a great time to get your own credit card. This way you start your credit history early with those low spending limit student credit cards. However, be sure to learn the art of budgeting and do pay your credit cards off every month.

Here are additional college and education tips from my archive:

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10 thoughts on “10 Tips for College Bound Students”

  1. Do not use college life as an opportunity to get a credit card or to “build credit history.” You will have plenty of time for that later. Try instead to (1) build your GPA; (2) build your resume; and (3) build net worth. Too many college students come out owing money on credit cards (with student loans to boot). That limits post-grad opportunities. Take credit cards off your list. (Signed: parent of 3 college students)

  2. Great advice. I also have a couple things to add:

    1) Work and pay your own way. You reduce the burden on your parents and will gain more from college. You value most the things you earn.

    2) Take as heavy a load as you can handle. Get done early!

    3) You have no excuse to get anything less than outstanding grades. Your number one responsibility is your education.

    4) Look to alternative education. Can you go to a local or state school? How about going to community college for your first couple years? Can you test out of classes?

    5) Ask yourself if college is right for you. The idea that everyone need to go to college is wrong. A vocational program or the military may be more appropriate.

    Now I know there are some arguments to these ideas. Most are based on antiquated concepts or the belief that going to the best school will ensure a great future. I can tell you from personal experience that the rules have changed and those beliefs are just wrong. I tested out of everything I could and went to a lesser known school. Guess what…It never affected my ability to get a job or maximize my paycheck. After your first real job your degree is a formality that gets you in the door. It is your ability to perform and contribute that will ensure you have a fulfilling career and a generous paycheck.

    As for paying your own way I earned two degrees while working full time so I know it can be done. I graduated with honors and had a family. It was tough but worth it. I may not have had the traditional experience but that doesn’t matter. And the degrees meant that much more because I paid my own way and my family sacrificed so I could do it.

  3. Staying local can save you tons of money without greatly affecting the quality of education. Sometimes the community college professors teach at the higher priced universities in the area. Cut your bills in half or more by going local. I’m glad I did.

  4. I would say start saving/investing as early as you can. Also, and I was just having this conversation with someone the other day: don’t take BS classes. We didn’t really have them in my school, but this guy was telling me that he could take Ballroom 101, Bowling, beach volleyball, etc. What’s the point of taking these kinds of classes? Most of them are aimed at seniors trying to “fill their quota.” I think it’s a waste of time and money. Take something practical or at least interesting, don’t just sign up because it’s a throwaway class.

  5. @TML — “Do not use college life as an opportunity to get a credit card or to build credit history. You will have plenty of time for that later.”

    I respect your experience, but I disagree. I think it’s better to start early while parents still can exert their influences on the child. I know credit cards could be dangerous, but like anything else, you don’t just hand a knife to a child…you teach him/her how to handle it properly and safely.

    “Try instead to (1) build your GPA; (2) build your resume; and (3) build net worth”

    Good point. For #3, if you can afford to open and IRA even with just $400-500 a year, do it! That little amount will give you so much head start if you keep at it and carry the habit through adulthood (of course, maximizing the contribution once you can afford to).

    @B Smith — Great add. Although I agree that a bachelor degree is not the right answer for everyone, I think you should at least try. I believe not having one just limit your options so severely.

    @Laura — I avoided airfare too, but I wish the drive was shorter.

    @Writer’s Coin — Great advice about not taking useless filler classes. I probably took a few too many of these fillers.

  6. If there was one thing I could go back and tell myself it would be


    I am not sure if it was me, my school, reality or a combo of all three…but I did not find college classes all that difficult (except calc. – that class beat me to shreads!). What I found “difficult” was trying to find class meaningful without doing the work prior to class.

    The excuse “I don’t have time” is B.S. for 95% of college students. I worked during both college and law scool – there are as many hours in a week that you allow yourself to utilize (I just made that saying up, I think I like it).

  7. @Evan — Excellent point. I definitely didn’t work hard enough during college. Fortunately, I had a chance to redeem in graduate school and finally graduated with a grade that is more reflective of my true ability.

  8. Great tips and as usual a comprehensive list. I have shared some tips in a recent post on and one that I highlighted (which was not on the list above) was learning to cook and avoid take away food on a regular basis. Cooking at home means you will have more control of your food finances and hopefully lower your eating/dining out costs significantly. It is also a big plus point for impressing someone on a date!

  9. Establishing your credit line early is a disaster waiting to occur as most 18 year olds don’t have the financial discipline. Your advice would be for the student who doesn’t need financial advice.

    Better advice is given at the top which is to work on developing your knowledge and GPA.

  10. @Andy — Thank you.

    @Chris — I agree that the most important tasks for students are to learn and get good GPA. I also agree that credit card could turn into a disaster. I also think this is just a reflection of poor financial education our children received (or do not receive). How could you expect a better result if they don’t get good financial educations and learning from parents that aren’t that much better off? I think my “tip” is not a bad one, but perhaps, our society is not ready for it yet.

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