Howdy! My name is Catherine, and I’m a Texas Aggie. This fall is the start of my Junior year as a mechanical engineering student at Texas A&M University. My past two years here have been great, and I can already say I’ve gained a lot of experience both in academics and life in general. At the same time, I’ve also gained something else: college debt! Going to university means spending money, and I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about college expenses, and some ways of keeping them low.
Number One: Tuition. Paying for Classes is the biggest item on a college student’s bill. Every semester, I pay my university almost $5400, which is a lot! Because I get charged a flat-rate amount, I don’t have any advice on this one except to point out that I’m attending a State University in Texas. This means I get to pay in-state tuition instead of the more expensive out-of-state tuition. Also, try not to miss class. Education is expensive, and it’s a waste of your money to miss class…or nap during lecture.
Be prepared to buy textbooks and access codes to homework websites. These are normally quite pricey, and it’s a good idea to wait until you’ve met with your professor before you buy your books. He or she will tell you which textbooks you really need to buy, and also if an older and cheaper edition will suffice. Even if the textbook is listed as ‘required,’ you may end up never having to look at it! Taking this advice seriously will save you a lot of money.
Number Two: Lodging. After tuition, the next most expensive item will be paying for housing. Living on campus is a lot more convenient than living off it. Staying in a dorm means that you will live within walking distance to your class, and as an extra perk, utilities are normally included, so you can keep your lights on as long you want! As different dorms will vary in price and quality it is also a good idea to look for reasonable off-campus housing close by. In this situation, finding a roommate can be a great way to divide the rent and keep costs down.
Number Three: Food. Similar to housing, it’s possible to get meals both on and off campus. A meal plan will furnish a hungry college student with ‘dining dollars,’ which you can spend at restaurants on-campus as if they were normal dollars, and a set amount of meals to use at the Cafeteria. Depending on how good you are at budgeting – and cooking! – buying groceries and making your own meals may be a cheaper and healthier option. I personally like to cook for myself, and spend $35 per week on groceries. That is $1920 a semester compared to $2371 a semester on the University’s best meal plan.
Number Four: Transportation. Having a car is a great help in college life, especially if you’re attending a University that’s not walking distance from the mall or supermarket. The costs associated with buying and using a car will take up a notable part of your expenses. If you’re going to drive in College, don’t forget to factor gas and maintenance into your budget!
Number Five: Miscellaneous Expenses…which is another way of saying everything else! Eating out, cinema tickets, sports equipment, and any other hobbies or activities you are involved in probably will come with a fee, and it’s a great idea to list the weekly or monthly costs associated with them.
I’ll end by mentioning something VERY important: financial aid through scholarships and subsidized loans. A scholarship is a grant, which means you don’t have to pay it back. They are awarded based on merit or need. I encourage you to apply for as many as you can, because you can’t beat free money. You can also be awarded a subsidized loan in which you borrow money but don’t have to pay interest. Applications for scholarships are normally accepted before the start of each school year.
Well, that’s about it! I hope this advice will be helpful to incoming freshman. Have a great first year, y’all, and happy budgeting!
This essay was submitted by Catherine Pfang for FTWCCU’s Cash for Class contest. Catherine, a junior at Texas A&M University, is a mechanical engineering major.