Financially Literate College Decisions

College students are excited and eager to further their education and goals until everything starts to feel like there’s a hidden price tag attached to it. From school-themed “fake” cash to overpriced dining options and high tuition prices, college students are finding themselves more buried in debt than in books. Here are a few ways that I lessened the load of my education on my wallet without sacrificing the quality of my experience and education: 


General education at a four year university is a marked up version of the exact same education you can find at a community college. As a Cal State student who still wanted to utilize the prospects of my four year university while saving tuition money, being dually enrolled in a community college for general education and taking major requirements at my four year university allowed me to finish these requirements in one year instead of two, while saving a year of GE tuition which is around 8k. 


There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, and this phrase is literal as a college student. Housing and food tend to occupy a large portion of a student’s expenses, and tend to be overpriced. Dining options are embellished with fancy phrasing such as “swipes per week,” to convince students that they are getting the best bang for their buck, but let’s do the math:

California State University dining options range from $1500 for 90 entries into the dining commons, which is around $16.67 per meal, and 90 entries are not even enough for the whole semester. 90 entries would last for only about a month if a student was having 3 meals per day. Assuming there are around 20 weeks per semester at a university, spending around $50-$70 per week on groceries would still only add up to around $1000-$1400 for the entire semester, and increases control over your food options and for dietary restrictions. 

Even “best value” options that allow unlimited entry for around $2500 per semester have a weekly expense of around $125 in food. 


Residing in on-campus housing is highly romanticized for being one of the best social experiences in college, but the real hack lies in adjacent off-campus housing. Getting a larger room for half the price and not having an RA sound too good to be true, but hear me out. Double room occupancies have a semester rent of around $6400 and triple room occupancies have a semester rent of around $5500. These rooms are usually around 17”x10”, but sharing a room means that only half or even a third of it is your personal space, depending on whether it is a double or triple. The monthly rent for a double or triple adds up to around $1375-$1600. Off campus housing in very close proximity to the university ranges anywhere from $700-$1200 a month for single occupancy rooms that often tend to be larger than what university housing offers, resulting in around $2800-$4800 in rent for the entire semester.

These are some of the personal finance decisions I made my first few years of college. Your mileage may vary.

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