Headed to College? Don’t Ignore the Financial Details of University Life

September brings the start of a new season, a new harvest, and new class schedules for excited college students. Whether heading to the university for the very first time, or the fifth, it is important for young adults to consider their ability to pay for their education.

Even as an undergraduate studying finance and economics, my own personal finances stayed in the back of my mind while I explored fields, learned how the world operates, and managed some sense of a social life. As a student in college, spending money is easy and frequent. Textbooks, binders and pencils must all fit into a stylish bag which will be loaded daily and carried up to several miles a day. On the University of Oregon campus, this means rain jackets, comfortable shoes, and sometimes bicycles are necessities. Throw in rent checks, groceries, and Saturday night’s entertainment and you’ll notice your bank account quickly depleting.

When it comes to finally starting to repay your loans, you have a variety of options, but what you do during your time in school will have a big impact on your final education bill. Magazines often offer advice to parents and graduates about how to reduce expenses while in school. Many tips are simple; I offer a few more.

Learn to Cook: $60 can buy groceries for a week, but might only cover a few restaurant meals.

Rent or Buy Used: New textbooks often run close to $100 a piece. College bookstores offer the same resell value for used copies in good condition, meaning your net cost is less.

Earn Community College Credit: These credits cost less. Tuition for a sixteen-credit term for Fall 2011 at Clackamas Community College would be $1,232. Compare this to $2,685 at the University of Oregon and $6,544 at Marylhurst University.

Apply for Scholarships: Academic scholarships, often offered through the institution can sometimes narrow the field of competition, increasing your odds of being selected. Look into general university scholarships which are awarded annually and major field of study awards which have relatively few applicants.

Work on Campus: Surprisingly, I don’t see more financial advice columns recommending this strategy. On campus jobs are good for earning a few extra dollars without hurting your ability to study. With flexible scheduling, a casual environment and learning opportunities, this just might be better than your entry-level job after graduation. As a resident assistant, I was highly engaged in campus activities and saved $10,000 per year on living expenses.

Saving early helps: If your parents were not able to save much in special accounts for your education, you are in good company. Although more and more young parents are starting dedicated savings plans for their children’s education, tuition rates are increasing at a faster rate than even the best investments. During my time at Oregon (2006-2010) average four-year public and private expenses increased 26% according to College Board. A typical family now has the ability to cover just 16% of educational costs.

There are many ways families can save for a college education (or two) and even more ways for students to save on expenses. Next week I’ll post some brief advice on how to pay off student debt, including a costly mistake you won’t want to make.


More resources:

Kiplinger – Topic: College

Costco Connection “An Education in Education Costs”

U.S. News & World Report “10 Big and Small Ways to Save Money on College”

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