4 Lessons She Learned by Paying Her Way Through College

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In a few months, I'll turn 30. I was recently asked to write a letter to my younger self reflecting on what has made my career successful thus far, and it got me thinking back to when my career started -– in college.

I financed my own way through college with the combination of student loans and a job. At the time, I didn't consider myself too lucky, but looking back, I'm thankful for the lessons learned and the opportunities gained by having to fund my own higher education:

1. Where there's a will, there's a way. It's funny how motivated you are to finish school in four years when you're fronting the payment. In my case, getting good grades translated into enrollment in my school's business honor's program. Translation? Priority registration baby! This put me at the front of the line versus my peers for getting my classes checked off in time. Do the research to forge your own path and create a plan of attack.

2. Kicking off your career early pays dividends down the road. My college jobs included a stint at the front desk in the dorms, a job as one of those cell phone people at the mall we all love to hate,
and a job as a receptionist in a financial planning firm. When I got that last job at the end of my sophomore year, I quickly realized that I had found my career path. I switched my major, worked my way up in the firm and graduated from college with two years of industry experience under my belt. Starting early helped me to find my likes and dislikes at an earlier stage, command a higher income than my less-experienced peers and ultimately allowed me to launch my own business before I turned 30. Don't wait. Start early with a part-time job or internship in your field.

3. Budgets will always matter. When you find yourself in charge of managing the inflows and outflows of your life at an early age, you quickly learn to determine if Top Ramen makes a better meal choice because of your desire to go out with friends or how to pay your own cell phone bill on time. Your age doesn't matter. The first step in keeping your finances on track is understanding where your money is going. Use an Excel spreadsheet or website like Mint to get on track.

4. Professors make for more than great teachers. Many college students fail to realize that their professors are likely to have valuable connections and insights to offer beyond the classroom. Taking time to say thank you, ask questions and build a relationship with some professors can translate into mentorship and career assistance down the road.

Mary Beth Storjohann is a certified financial planner and the founder and CEO of Workable Wealth.


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