This Financial Mistake I Made in College Has Haunted Me for 20 Years


Image source: Getty Images

It’s a move I very much regret to this day.


Key points

  • I had the option to graduate college early and save money on tuition.
  • Instead of doing that, I took classes I enjoyed and hung out with friends, which wound up costing me a lot of money.

The high school I attended had a rigorous curriculum that, at times, had me taking upward of 10 classes — not including extracurriculars. As such, by the time I got to college, I was no stranger to loading up on classes, and I was comfortable with a larger course load than many of my friends.

Because of this, by the time I finished up the first semester of my senior year, I had accumulated more than enough credits to graduate. I had also, at that point, completed all of the required courses for my majors.

At that point, I had a choice — graduate early and try to find a (low-paying) job in the college town I lived in, all the while losing health insurance (because back then, you couldn’t just stay on your parents’ plan if you weren’t a full-time student), or pay for an extra semester of school, take fun classes, and hang out with my friends.

I ended up opting for the latter. My logic was that I was locked into a year-long lease for my campus-adjacent house, and the job market in my college town was so weak that I wouldn’t end up making much money by going out and working full time. Instead, I figured I’d keep my existing part-time job and my health insurance.

But in reality, I knew that paying for another semester of college was not the most cost-effective solution to that situation. And in hindsight, I regret not graduating early.

I could’ve carved out a smoother financial path

The summer before my senior year of college, I worked a finance job that paid me generously. As such, I earned enough to cover college tuition and living costs for the upcoming year.

Staying at school for that extra semester didn’t cause me to rack up any debt — educational, credit card, or otherwise. But by spending the money on classes I didn’t need, I put myself in a position where he would take me that much longer to pay off my existing debt from previous semesters, and also, where it would take me longer to build a solid emergency fund.

Also, while the job market in my college town wasn’t wonderful, when you’re 21 with limited work experience and money, a job is still a job. Had I gotten one, I would’ve perhaps had a more robust resume at the ready once it came time to seek out full-time work.

Learning from my mistake

I can admit that back then, I didn’t want to commit myself to a full-time job while my friends were taking a handful of classes at college. That would’ve meant having a much more rigorous schedule at a time when I wanted an easy one.

But also, a big reason I paid for an extra semester of school was to take fun classes that interested me. And while I’m a firm believer in getting an education, the reality is that those classes were really an indulgence — not a necessity. I could’ve instead worked part-time, which I was already doing, and “self-taught” myself some of that material instead.

Years later, I was a little lost career-wise and toyed with applying to graduate school. I even studied for and took some exams to make that possible. But ultimately, I opted out of grad school because I realized that it wasn’t going to further my career. And I’m glad I didn’t spend the money on a degree that wouldn’t have done much for me.

As much as I think I made the wrong call staying in college that extra semester when I could’ve graduated early, it helped me avoid making a similar mistake later in life. So to that end, I can at least say that something good came from my blunder.

Alert: highest cash back card we’ve seen now has 0% intro APR until 2023

If you’re using the wrong credit or debit card, it could be costing you serious money. Our expert loves this top pick, which features a 0% intro APR until 2023, an insane cash back rate of up to 5%, and all somehow for no annual fee.

In fact, this card is so good that our expert even uses it personally. Click here to read our full review for free and apply in just 2 minutes.

Read our free review

Leave a Comment