Teachers and textbooks can help you prepare for your career, but what about the life lessons they don't prepare you for? We've compiled a list of ten things every college student should know.
1. Credit 101
Over 67% of college undergraduate students have a credit card in their own name. The key is to not overextend your credit. Credit cards aren’t magic wands that make money spontaneously appear. Banks will lend you money but can charge high interest rates, so be smart and only use your credit cards if it’s absolutely necessary. If you have your eye on the latest smartphone you may want to rethink your decision to purchase it. Your credit score stays with you throughout your life and can affect buying a car or house some day in the future.
To maintain good credit try to pay more than your minimum monthly payment each month, keep the number of credit cards to a minimum, and pay your bills on time.
2. Filling Out W-4 Forms
Yay, you got a killer job making burritos at Chipotle! But before your first shift begins you’re going to have to fill out a W-4 form. A W-4 form is the amount of federal income tax to have withheld from your paycheck. The withholding allowance is related to, but not the same as, the number of dependents you can claim on your tax return.
Make sure to review your tax return each year and adjust accordingly.
To find out more information, visit the IRS website.
Interviews can be stressful, but don’t fret, take a deep breath and follow these tips to land that job!
Researching the company should be your first step. Employers like to see that you are knowledgable about your position and the company’s history. During the interview you should be able to ask questions that show your interest and enthusiasm about the company’s work and culture.
Do some prep work the night before. Decide which clothes you are going to wear, iron them, and lay them out or hang them to keep them wrinkle free. Also, make sure to get a good night’s sleep, wake up with plenty of time to get ready, and leave the house or connect to your computer early—you never know when there will be a traffic jam or internet connection issues.
Once you arrive to the interview shake the interviewer’s hand, smile, and look them in the eye. Nothing says confidence like a person with good eye contact and a firm handshake.
If you're interviewing virtually it's proven that interviewers prefer people who talk with their hands. Studies have shown that people who frequently use hand gestures are perceived as warm, agreeable, and energetic.
After the interview make sure to follow up! Two days after the interview you should place a follow-up phone call and send a thank you card or email to make sure you stay fresh in their mind.
4. Learning To Cook
You don’t have to order takeout food or resort to eating Ramen noodles every night. Every college student (and adult) should have at least one or two dishes in their repertoire that are nutritious and easy to make.
Purchasing the right cooking equipment is key. Your kitchen should be stocked with silverware, measuring cups, pots, and pans before you start trying to experiment with cooking. Another investment you can make is a crockpot, it’s an easy way to make delicious home-cooked meals without spending loads of time in the kitchen.
If you don’t have any go-to recipes you can easily find them online. Pinterest has a plethora of recipes with step-by-step instructions, or if you’re feeling more adventurous there are many fun cooking blogs like Smitten Kitchen, Morganic Kitchen, and Half Baked Harvest that show you how to create delicious meals.
If you’re really at a loss for inspiration you may need a food-delivery service. They will deliver all the ingredients needed for a scrumptious dinner, with instructions on how to make them, right to your door. HelloFresh and Plated are two of the many services offered out there. They make cooking easy!
A budget lets you control your money, helps you focus on your financial goals, and helps you prepare for emergencies or large or unanticipated expenses that might otherwise knock you for a loop financially.
The best way to start budgeting yourself is to evaluate your current expenses. Start by tracking your spending for three months. Write down everything you spend and place them into categories. You have necessities like your rent, car payment or food; entertainment expenses like a Netflix account or dinner out with friends; and impulse buys like a new shirt or video game.
Once you have a larger picture of what you’re spending you can make cuts accordingly. You should spend no more than 90 percent of your income.
6. Getting Your First Apartment/House
Congratulations, you’re finally moving out of your parents house! Life is about to get real.
Take a realistic look at your budget and what you can afford in terms of rent or a mortgage. Keep in mind that most apartments/houses for rent require both first month’s rent and last month’s rent when you sign the lease. Some places may require anything from $500 to an additional month’s rent in terms of a security deposit; make sure you’re clear on what is considered damage versus day-to-day wear and tear. You should also ask the same question regarding pet deposits, which are in place to pay for any damage or loss of revenue to the building owner due to animals on the property.
Make sure you think about the potential cost of utilities, since most utility companies will require a deposit if you’ve never had an account with them before; also, if you’re setting up utilities for the first time in a new place, there’s usually a “hook up” fee or administration fee. It may be best to shop around for places that include utility costs in the monthly rent.
7. Buying or Leasing a Car
Before you buy or lease a car decide what works best for your budget.
Leases are attractive to many car shoppers because you can get more out of a car for a lower monthly payment. Lessees only pay for the depreciation on the car, not the entire vehicle. You are basically renting the car for the length of the lease.
When you buy a car, you pay for the entire cost of a vehicle, regardless of how many miles you drive it. However, a purchased car is yours and you can customize it however you like, unlike when you lease a car. The best part of owning a car is when you make that last car payment. Although there may be more repairs with an older car, it is nice to be debt free at the end of your loan.
Just remember, a car’s value depreciates the same amount whether it is leased or purchased.
8. Maintaining Your Vehicle
Keeping your car in top running condition can save you money.
Make sure to keep your tires properly inflated—it can increase gas mileage. A lot of today’s car models tell you when the tire pressure is low, but if your car doesn’t, drop by the gas station to test the tire pressure and fill your tires up when necessary. The tire pressure (PSI) is written directly on the tire, so only inflate to the recommended amount.
To keep the paint looking shiny new remember to wash your car at least once a month. You need to remove dirt, bugs, and droppings so they don’t cause stains or rust spots. A wax will help protect your paint and avoid any permanent damage.
Did your car light just come on? Don’t ignore it. Take it to a mechanic right away. Small problems can become bigger if not tended to immediately.
9. Purchasing Car Insurance
Having car insurance is mandatory, knowing insurance terms is not. Let’s break down the major terms to help you get on the road.
Collision insurance pays for damage to your own vehicle resulting from a collision, while comprehensive coverage pays for property damage to your vehicle resulting from anything other than a collision—such as theft, a break-in or malicious mischief.
Uninsured or underinsured motorist (UM) coverage pays for your injuries if you are struck by a hit-and-run driver or by someone who doesn’t have adequate insurance—either because they have no coverage or because they don’t have enough coverage to pay for your injuries. This type of coverage is limited to bodily injury and does not cover property damage to your vehicle.
Under no-fault coverage insurance, each person’s own insurance company pays for his or her medical bills and lost wages—up to a certain dollar amount—regardless of who was at fault. The advantage of no-fault insurance is prompt payment of medical bills and lost wages; however, it doesn’t cover pain and suffering, emotional distress, inconvenience or lost opportunities.
10. Opening an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)
We already talked about a budget, but what about budgeting for your future? It may seem like a long way off, but in most cases the earlier you start saving for retirement the earlier you can retire.
First, decide which type of IRA is best for you—a Roth (which helps you save on taxes in retirement) or traditional IRA (which helps you save on taxes currently).
Then, start a discount brokerage account to house your long-term retirement savings. Ask your broker to place the bulk of your contribution toward retirement, not to trading commissions.
Officially open the account by downloading the application forms, signing them, and mailing them to the broker along with a check to fund your account. Contribution limits to IRAs* are $6,500.00, or $7,500 those ages 50 or older.
*For the year 2023 according to the IRS