Three Expensive Things Worth Buying (Even on a College Budget)

featured_money@wdd2xNo matter how you’re financing your college education—through scholarships, savings, working, loans, etc.—your college budget is likely to be tight.

I had generous scholarships and a reasonable pile of savings helping me through my four undergraduate years, but even then I spent plenty of time counting coins at the supermarket, dragging my laundry home to avoid the dorm machine costs, and making up excuses to avoid eating out with friends or colleagues at restaurants out of my budget (ordering the smallest and cheapest dishes said restaurants had whenever I couldn’t come up with a good enough excuse).

In some ways, four years of penny-pinching paid off: I graduated in a more financially secure position than I’d expected to, never had to take out a student loan, and avoided burdening my family with high college costs. However, I also learned the hard way that there are some things worth splurging on.

I know that college student budgets vary widely, and that sometimes it’s just not possible to spend money on the arguably luxury items in this list – whenever the funds can be safely afforded, however, I highly, highly recommend investing in the following three things:

1) A Good Mattress
This may not be an option if you live in a dorm, but if you’re buying your own bed to use throughout college, this is a must (and even if your school does provide you with a mattress, a good mattress topper is just as helpful). Even though I could have spared just enough money to buy a mattress with adequate support, I ended up with some nasty shoulder and lower-back pain because I spent far too long on a thin, flimsy bit of foam that thinned to nothing within four months of regular use (even though I’m a relatively small person; I heard plenty worse from my larger friends).

Today, two awful dorm bed mattresses later, I’m working on hammering out the kinks in my shoulder with a massage therapist who charges $85 per hour. And I’m not alone – I know others who picked up lifelong back problems just from a year or two on a bad college mattress. Pay for the mattress now to avoid paying for your health later.

2) Fresh, Healthy Food
Meal plans and junk food are tempting and (often) cheaper than the healthier options, but your body and your mind will thank you throughout and after college if you choose fresh produce over instant ramen. Healthy food improves your academic performance, keeps you energized, and boosts your mood, which makes you both a better student and a generally happier person. Pay for real nourishment to get the most out of the money you’re spending on your education.

3) Study Abroad
This is by far the most expensive item on this list, but it deserves to be included because study abroad is an incredible supplement to your college education. Study abroad programs allow you to expand your horizons and gain new perspectives through travel and exposure to new places and people. Classes help you meet types of people you’ve never met before; program and university affiliation provide a safety net (health insurance, counseling resources, emergency loans, and other benefits) to reduce the risks that may come with spending a lot of time in an unfamiliar place; and financial aid and scholarships are available to ease the financial burden.

Studying abroad is especially worth the money because it’s something you can only do while in school. The opportunity to spend an entire semester or year exploring a new world, especially with a program and an academic structure to keep you safe and help you integrate, is rare and precious and should be seized.

Do you need help with your college applications? Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE Profile Evaluation for personalized feedback on your unique background! And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.

Don’t Worry About Your Freshman Roommate!

roomateBefore my first year of college, one of the biggest things I worried about was the prospect of not liking my freshman roommate. After having my own room (and a decently sized one at that) for all 18 years of my life, the prospect of spending two full semesters in a small dorm with someone I had never met was a scary one.

What if I don’t like him? What if his side of the room is a mess? What if he goes to bed at 4AM and blasts music every night? How is this nondescript roommate questionnaire going to pair me with someone I’m actually compatible with? What if he doesn’t like me? In my mind, the negative possibilities were endless.

In one sense, these fears are reasonable. Since you don’t have many (or any) friends at your new school before the year starts, it makes sense to want to have a perfect relationship with your roommate. Couple that desire with the seemingly random roommate pairing process at many schools, and it’s easy to get anxious.

However, in my experience these fears are oftentimes unfounded. Here are a few reasons why:

You Don’t Have to Be BFFs 
While it may not seem so beforehand, making friends in college is not too hard. That said, it’s not imperative that you and your roommate are best friends for life. Being friends with your roommate certainly doesn’t hurt, but if you aren’t super close, you’ll still be able to easily develop a solid friend group. Plus, sometimes it’s good to look outside your dorm for friendship, since it forces you to expand your horizons and get out to meet people!

Closeness Breeds Compatibility 
Even if there are certain factors that may seem to hinder your compatibility with your roommate, the fact of the matter is that most people are perfectly capable of living with each other. Barring extreme circumstances, most people can get along when they have to.

Additionally, the more you spend time living with your roommate, the more you two can figure out how to room together effectively. As long as you’re nice about it, making small requests like turning the music down or cleaning up the room a bit are likely to help out your situation without harming the room dynamic. Good communication is key – when communication lines are healthy and open, little annoyances can easily be prevented from turning into bigger problems.

(Yes) New Friends 
One overlooked thing about having a roommate is that even if you two aren’t very close, you’ll still get introduced to his or her friends. For me – someone who was friendly with, but not best friends with, my roommate – it was fun getting to know my roommate’s friends and hang out with them in our room. It’s easy to get caught up just in your own friend group, so spending time with my roommate’s friends was a nice change of pace. The ironic thing is that even though I didn’t end up being great friends with my roommate (something I had worried about), I ended up making more friends because of him!

Overall, going into college can be a nerve-wracking time for a lot of people. However, worrying about your freshman roommate is an unnecessary expenditure of worry. Hey, you’ll both be mature, responsible, college-ready adults, and even if you seem different, I’m confident you’ll be able to make it work.

Do you still need to help with your college applications? We can help! Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE Profile Evaluation for personalized feedback on your unique background! And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

By Aidan Calvelli.