Summer may be drawing to a close, but August’s end is a time of rejoicing for June’s high school graduates and colleges’ returning students nationwide. Whether the institution is small or sprawling, whether it’s the first time a student’s moving in or her first time moving off campus, the start of a new college year is an exciting, electric moment. The four years, give or take, that we spend in college can be among the most memorable of our lives. But in retrospect, how many of us, long removed from the university, wish someone had given us a bit more of an insider track about how things work in the halls of academia? I know I do. Between hidden costs, roommate conflict, and general caution, there were a lot of financial and social areas of college life where I could’ve used a heads-up. Here are a few time-honored tips for getting through four of the best years of young adult (Feel free to add your own advice in the comment section.):
1. Books are like a second, miniature tuition.
By now, many professors have posted their textbook requirements and the bookstore is busy stocking them. You may have even already made a trip to the bookstore, with stars in your eyes and an expectation that, of the $250 you’ve been allotted, you’ll have enough left over to buy some college-emblem swag. But kiss that sweatshirt or bumper sticker goodbye, because 250 bones won’t even begin to cover it. In fact, depending on your major, 250 bucks might only cover 2.5 books. Here’s a tip: when possible, avoid the college bookstore. Go with an online bookseller, always buy used, and look into the cost of renting your book for a semester. If you know any upperclassmen, see if you can strike a deal with them by reminding them they’ll get way more from you than they will from the bookstore if they sell the book back to them. One another option is to go half on a book with another student–but that could backfire if you split the cost with a slacker. You’ll rarely see the book and you’ll never see your money again.
2. When it comes to roommates, don’t suffer in silence.
A few high-profile cases in recent years have taught us that roommate conflict should not be underestimated. At the first sign of trouble, make your apprehension known. It’s important to remember that most college disagreements are minor and rarely is the person assigned to room with you violent or destructive. In the event that you’re just dealing with typical space-sharing woes, like messiness or noisiness, try working it out among yourselves. But if you even begin to suspect that you’ve got a possible felon as your bunkmate, tell the resident advisor, tell your parents, tell a dean, tell other classmates. As we’ve seen in the cases that’ve hit the news, it could be the difference between life and death.
3. Don’t be in a rush to leave campus.
Everyone wants to feel that surge of independence that comes with renting an apartment for the first time. But trust me, if financial aid is covering on-campus housing, avail yourself of that opportunity. You have the rest of your life to juggle household expenses and incur renter’s debt that may affect your credit. Going in with peers to rent a big off-campus space only increases the likelihood that someone’s missed payments or room-trashing will result in a loss of deposit at least or eviction at worst.
4. Stay up on your credits and requirements.
I can’t tell you the number of returning seniors who stroll into their lecture halls confident of their graduation later in spring, only to find out that they’re short too many credits, owe too much aid to walk, or have outstanding library fines that are causing the administration to hold their degree hostage. Keep current with any money or books you borrowed. Make sure your major, minor, and gen ed requirements have all been met. Nothing makes for a worse spring than the shoe-dropping news that you won’t be allowed to graduate. Usually, that kind of disappointment can be avoided by frequent meetings with your adviser and a keen awareness of what, if anything, you owe.
Do you have more advice for incoming college freshmen or returning students?