College: What I Did Wrong (Part 2)
I hate most other blogs. Most other blogs are written by robo-people who seem to have never made a mistake in their lives.
I’m not one of them- I don’t sit at a pastel color-coordinated desk with perpetually warm coffee and cursive writing floating overhead.
So, as a real human, I will go over some of my financial mistakes as well, so you don’t make them too. For Part 2 of my “Life Stages” series, I will go over some of the things I did wrong while I was in school.
1. I took out student loans.
If there is ONE thing you can learn from the entirety of this blog, at all costs, for the love of God, DO. NOT. TAKE. OUT. STUDENT. LOANS.
Hey you, about to sign that loan promissory note, DON’T.
I didn’t go insane on my student loans. If you read Part 1, you know that my tuition was covered when I went off to school. My loans were taken out to cover things like housing, books, and general living expenses.
Since 18-year-olds have a minimal grasp of what real world expenses are, these added up to $24,000.
In the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t too bad. I know plenty of people who got into hundreds of thousands in debt through student loans. However, it was like having a phantom car payment that put me behind my peers. Add a husband with similar debt, and now you have two phantom cars.
Now at 30, my husband and I still aren’t quite ready to buy a house. A lot of our friends seem to go out to eat whenever they want, wherever they want. You know, at those fancy places downtown that serve food on wood blocks and have a ____ & ____ name that doesn’t make sense like “Willow & Spear.” We can’t quite do that.
Fortunately our loans were reasonable and we finished paying them off this year (woo-hoo)! If you feel you really must take out loans, one rule of thumb to follow is to keep the total below the amount of your expected starting salary.
So if you plan on starting off as a journalist making $35,000 a year, don’t take out $80,000 in loans.
If you’re set on being an anesthesiologist, ok, you can probably take out $100,000 for med school.
However, do what you can to minimize or eliminate loans. Choose a more affordable school (in the end, employers tend to not care where you went unless they’re alumni). Choose to live at home while commuting to a nearby college.
2. I should have picked a better major.
I was a biology major. It was what I was good at in high school, and it’s generally meets prerequisite requirements for med school, vet school, and other professional career paths.
I was a crunchy-environmental type in school, so I assumed I would graduate and get handed U.S. EPA Director or something that involved getting paid to wonder around wetlands and stare at birds.
Now I’ve been stuck in lab tech jobs for eternity. I get paid an ok amount, work fairly normal hours and have benefits at work, but again, I feel like I’m behind those who made better career choices.
If I had the chance to do college over, I’m not sure exactly at this point what I would major in, but it wouldn’t be biology again. It would be something that has a real-world job title and a professional certification associated with it.
Accounting. Nursing. Engineering. All of those are majors that have a professional certification and an identity associated with them.
Instead of having to tweak my resume into arguing about how I might fit into some hourly unstable role, I wish I had picked a major involving a more direct career. I especially wish I had chosen something where I could easily find a job in any city.
As you decide what to study in school, think about how available jobs are in your potential field of study. Do you actually know any astrophysists? How many jobs do you think are available in your hometown for botanists?
There are unique people who excel in less employable fields, but they are rare, and they often have to make huge sacrifices (having to move to a specific location, delaying life until 40).
3. I suffered from FOMO before it existed as a stupid acronym.
If someone is reading this post-2010s and it’s become an antiquated grandmotherly term, FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out. I went to college before the cool kids on Instagram started using this acronym, but it perfectly describes how I felt in school.
While living on campus, I seemed to only be observant of the 5% of students who started classes at noon, never had class on Fridays, didn’t work, went out to the bars seemingly every night, etc.
Seeing this made me strive to always look for what was easier, if striving for easy makes any sense at all. Though I did have challenging courses, here and there I would take an easier class, or I would avoid a class or an activity because it was early in the morning.
I somehow didn’t notice the other 95% of students who were there to learn.
If I could do it over again, I would have filled my schedule with classes that would be useful later in life, not ones that were late in the day or otherwise “easy” at the time.
Some of my friends from college who are most successful today lived off campus away from distraction, built friendships within their majors, or were involved in clubs and activities that involved discipline.
They weren’t total hermits who shunned college social life, and they have plenty of fun stories to tell from their college days, but they didn’t let “the college experience” or what we now call FOMO distract them from their goals.
4. I fell into the straight A trap.
The engineering major who made straight As becomes an engineer.
The engineering major who made Bs and Cs becomes an engineer.
The engineering major who was enrolled part-time, failed a few classes, retook them, spent 7 years on their bachelor’s… guess what they also eventually become?
I think part of the reason I avoided the hardest or most lucrative majors was because I was overly concerned about grades. Yes, grades are generally important, and you should master the material you are learning. However, you shouldn’t let grades hold you back from taking a risk, like taking a computer programming class over the entry level political science class.
Today when I look at resumes at my current job, I don’t notice an applicant’s GPA, unless it’s exceptionally bad. Even then I just assume they took a non-linear path through college (maybe they had kids, dealt with a death in the family, who knows).
Don’t let getting good grades hold you back.
That concludes my list of the top regrets I have from my college days (or at least the ones I’d write about online). Readers, what are your regrets from college or your post high school days? What would you impart on the minds of our youth if you had the chance? Comment below, and stay tuned for Part 3 on weddings.