At times, it’s overwhelming to think that we graduated college more than 5 years ago, and even stranger to think that our 10-year high school reunion just passed by. Visiting my old college campus a few weeks ago brought back a lot of memories and got me thinking.
While I realize that I’m younger than many people reading this blog, I can’t help but feel a sense of passing time that’s growing with age.
In a recent interview with fear.less magazine, Ramit Sethi said about helpful advice he’s been given:
To ask people 10 years older than you what they would have done.
I thought back to my life 10 years ago, and considered what advice I would give my freshman self entering college for the years ahead. What could I have done to make life easier for myself?
For those of you just starting out in college this month, I hope these insights are worth their weight in gold someday.
My 10 Things
Given the opportunity to go back 10 years and begin college anew, I would have:
- Worked more in my field, and done so earlier during college. I had the opportunity to work in architecture, but only did so for about 3 months during the summer before my senior year. The rest of the time, I held a rewarding job, but one that was unrelated to my eventual career. I would have used more summers earlier during my college years to do internships, and potentially continue working during the school year to sharpen my skills. Attending classes in online business management degree programs, for instance, won’t mean much unless you can get experience in the business world as an intern first.
- Put a much bigger emphasis on saving. While I put away my fair share of money in college, a bigger stockpile would have been incredibly useful upon graduation, to fund everything from moving and living expenses, to some of my other goals like marriage and a home purchase.
- Focused my freshman year on time and personal management first. I learned the concept of good time management late in my sophomore year, far too late to rescue the long nights and missed opportunities of freshman year. The irony is that, had I learned to manage myself better early on, I would have had more time for relaxation and fun.
- Learned how to eat better. They’re not kidding about the Freshman 15 (the fifteen pounds college rookies supposedly put on in their first year). Learning how to eat (though the phrase itself sound silly) would have paid off huge dividends in money not spent on going out and then paying for weight loss plans.
- Spent more time and money pursuing hobbies. My school life was focused heavily around academics, games, my future wife, and my close circle of friends. Hobbies are one area where I would have liked to spend more money, and used what now seems like an abundance of time to pursue things like writing, reading, and photography.
- Thought through my choice of jobs. I spent my freshman year working at the campus library, and absolutely hated every minute of it. I wasn’t being challenged in any way, and it took a toll on the rest of my life. I would have been much more careful about job I pursued, since I had the option to do a number of things on campus, any one of which could have probably worked out better.
- Used envelope budgeting from the start. Using an envelope budget would have helped me prepare for once and twice-yearly expenses like new books and travel expenses, and keep the rest of my monthly expenses in check. Sadly, the only tool I was aware of back then was Quicken.
- Been more purposeful about my financing options. There are thousands of financial aid options available to students today, including loans, grants, scholarships, work programs, and more. I would have been more focused about exploring alternative options that could have helped me shave tuition and living expenses.
- Started a business with friends. What better time to be entrepreneurial than when you have almost nothing to lose? With a creative spirit like mine and that of my closest few friends, we could have easily devised at least a couple of good business opportunities and tried them out.
- Moved off-campus earlier. Although moving would have probably required the purchase of a car, living on campus was terribly expensive when you actually looked at the monthly “rent” price. (Colleges hide this well by charging residence fees by year or semester).
Your 10 Things
If you went to college, think back to the start of your freshman year. If you could re-enter that body, knowing what you know today, what would you have done differently?
Double Bonus: For a list of things I did right, check out my 10 financial victories from college.