Looking back on my own experience with college, I made a ton of mistakes. I did a few things right, earned a bunch of scholarships, and worked all through college. However, I do wish that I had someone who had already attended college sit down with me and explain exactly what goes into paying for college. Growing up in a lower income area, and being the first person in my family to graduate from college, I didn't actually know many people who'd attended college who I could reach out to for advice. If I went back to talk to my younger self now, here's what I'd say.
I would first reiterate the importance of doing well in high school. I was so nervous about getting accepted into any college, that I was extremely diligent in high school and fought hard to get good grades. That drive and determination paid off in the form of a large number of academic scholarships, which carried through my entire 4 years of my undergraduate degree. This alone easily saved me thousands of dollars. At the same time, I would tell my high-school self to find jobs or volunteer in areas that I am truly interested in as a career. Making money in high school isn't as important as learning and gaining experience. I wish I had volunteered more in areas like healthcare and finance. It's amazing how open people are about their own experiences and how openly they'll share what they've learned with someone who's genuinely interested.
Attending college in the early 2010's, it would have been valuable to learn how the home-buying process works, since saving up a small amount for a home and renting out the rooms to my friends would have been extremely simple, and would have paid me back in many multiples by now. It would have been very easy to do if I had went to trade school, or attended community college. I could have easily worked enough to qualify for a mortgage, along with the rental income from my roomates. In addition, community college would have saved me at least $6,000-7,000 and that's including having my freshman year completely paid for at a 4 year university. Not only that, the coursework is less rigorous at my local community college, so I would have earned better grades in the same exact classes. With a 2 year degree from a community college, you are easily accepted into one of the local state schools to complete your degree, if necessary. Being that I attended pharmacy school, I didn't even need a 4 year degree.
So instead of having $20,000 in student loans from undergrad, I could have graduated with no student loans, and easily had equity in a home. Once in pharmacy school, I would have continued renting out my college home, and attended the cheapest in-state pharmacy school available. From there I would have graduated with about $100,000 in student loans, which could have easily been paid back in 4-5 years total. After 6-8 years in school, I would have had a home that produced positive cashflow after I moved out, and had greatly appreciated, thanks to buying in the recession. A few years after that, my student loans would be paid off, and I would likely have approximately $400,000 more in net worth than I do today.
It's ok to reflect back on your life and wish you had done things differently. I am thankful for the friendships I've made, and I am happy with where I'm at in my life, but part of developing and growing involves the ability to look back on your decisions and learn from them. If you're looking at attending college, or are currently in college, don't overlook community college or trade programs. Many of the trade programs will pay you through training, and have very good incomes after just a few months of training. I would have a much higher net worth today if I made $40,000 annually when I was 20 and invested it in appreciating assets, while matching the lifestyle of my friends in college. So think about how you're spending your time, and what you're signing up for. Make sure that it will pay-off in the end, or you might be looking back on your own experiences with regret.