If you are still feeling a little overwhelmed and not quite settled in to your first year of college just yet, you are certainly not alone. Once you get your educational sea legs, however, you'll be wise to start planning how to make the best use of the next four years. Need some pointers? We asked three of our Foolish contributors to share their wisdom.
Amanda Alix: Making the most of your college years includes planning ahead for the day that you will begin interviewing for your dream job. These days, employers want job applicants to have experience right out of college – and internships are a great way to show that you have the skills and ambition that companies desire.
When it comes to hiring, internships trump all other factors applicants bring to the interview, and carry much more weight with employers than a graduate's GPA.
The popularity of internships among employers has caused them to flourish. Once, they were offered only during the summer school hiatus; now, they are offered year-round.
If you just started college, you may think you have plenty of time to think about internships, particularly since they are so plentiful. You will do well to begin looking around as early as possible, however, since the closer the internship is tied to your eventual choice of employment, the more heft it will likely have with prospective employers.
What is the single best thing you can do to ensure that you are eligible for the very best internships in your major? Knuckle down, and get good grades – beginning with the very first semester of your college career.
Jordan Wathen: Summer classes are an overlooked opportunity to graduate sooner, and lower the cost of a college degree. Many state schools offer reduced tuition and fees during the summer months to boost enrollment and lower their cost per student, saving you money. If taken with a full-time schedule in the fall and spring, they'll also help you graduate earlier, allowing you to enter the workforce sooner.
Understand that these benefits can come at a cost. For one, summer classes are faster, covering a full semester's worth of material in as little as four to six weeks. Thus, students would be wise to enroll in summer classes only for topics that they know well.
Additionally, the lower cost of summer school is usually due to a lack of financial aid. In many cases, students will have exhausted all financial aid available to them through the school year. Or, in other cases, students find it difficult to take enough credit hours during the summer term to qualify for federal aid programs.
However, to those paying with scholarship money or out of their own pocket, summer classes can be a way to reduce the overall cost of a college education. And don't forget the advantage of graduating early, which can easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars in additional lifetime income.
Matthew Frankel: One of the most dangerous pitfalls to avoid in college is credit card debt. Despite the fact that student loan debt seems to grab most of the headlines these days, the pursuit of college students by credit card companies is alive and well. In fact, I attended a college football game last weekend, and Capital One had a booth set up right next to the student section offering free t-shirts to anyone who fills out an application.
And, despite the relatively lower debt totals, credit card debt can be even more dangerous to your financial well-being than student loans.
Let's say that you owe $10,000 in credit card debt and $35,000 in student loan debt at graduation. Well, Federal student loans distributed to undergraduate students currently come with a 4.66% fixed interest rate, compared with the average APR of 21.4% that comes with student credit cards. Well, your student debt, although much higher, would actually accumulate interest at a slower rate ($1,631 vs. $2,140 per year).
Also, don't forget that there are programs in placed designed to make student loans more affordable, such as income-based repayment programs, deferments, and forgiveness programs. No such programs exist for credit card debt.