4 Lessons She Learned by Paying Her Way Through College

Journalism students sitting in a circle
Brand X/Getty Images
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.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

What is Inflation?

Why do prices go up?

View Course »

Economics 101

Intro to economics. But fun.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

This is impressive, though I know a lot of people won't do anything like this. I worked during college, though it wasn't the kind of stuff that got me on a specific career path. But something people can consider is also the 529 investment plan to help pay for college. Learn more about it at http://www.mutualfundstore.com/529-plans-saving-for-college. But keep in mind each state will have different requirements for using this kind of investment plan. You will need to find out for your state.

May 07 2014 at 5:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There's a student intern on here, Andrea Watt, that says the Taco Bell Dorito Taco was her idea. I don't doubt it.
And now she wants part of the billions of dollars it has generated.
I routinely give away billion dollar ideas and inventions. But, I keep the bulk of them as trade secrets. On paper I'm worth more than Gates, Buffett, and Sims put together.
For example Stackers Chips were my idea, so was facial recognition, touch screen drive thru,
robot mail, the drone supermarket, on and on and on. If you are using something new, more than likely I thought of it. So what.

If Miss Watt is intelligent and talented, and I think she is, she should open a new Taco chain.
I'll give her some more new ideas for free.

April 08 2014 at 6:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to alfredschrader's comment

Here's one: The Ravioli Burrito. Instead of beans it's a soft burrito stuffed with steaming hot raviolis, tomato sauce, and Mozzarella cheese. When you take a bite long strings of the cheese apear. You get the bread, tomato and pasta, and cheese all in one.

April 08 2014 at 6:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is exactly how one wants a CFP to think. There are certain things one can't get without going to college, and a CFP is one of them.
There are traits between those that are successful in life, ( which includes passion) and those who are not. Life can set up enough roadblocks, without one intentionally adding to them.

April 08 2014 at 4:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is such tripe. and corporate tripe at that. There are over one trillion dollars in student debt and counting and of course it will crash and you the taxpayer will bal it out.

There are no jobs, and those that exist are low paying jobs that barely, if even, put food on the table.

This type of corporate media sludge is used to convince people they have a chance when in fact they do not. Unemployment, children living on the street, negative savings rates for Americans, debt, no housing that is affordable, a corporate health care system and corruption means that most will not go to college and those that do, will be in debt.

To report that a combination of jobs and hard work will get one through college is outright fraud. And feral fraud at that. This article is an anomily at best, mendacious at worst.

Ask your friends how they get or got through privatized higher ed. They will tell you that they financed the whole bal of wax through debt and more debt.

This is how
Wall St. puts out propaganda. Do not believe it

April 08 2014 at 2:21 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

What Mary Beth did not say (but implied) and needs to be stated in clear terms is GETTING A SOLID EDUCATION MUST REMAIN YOUR SINGULAR PRIORITY — your out-of-school life during that period is simply a means to that end. There are a lot of lesser scholarships available if one gets good grades. There are a lot of low paying, odd hour, oppressive jobs that still generate some income. There is no such thing as a summer vacation or holiday break if there is cash in the offing. School becomes a year round endeavor. She is right on about internships, paid or not. A little pertinent experience trumps no experience and that is valuable to both the incumbent and potential employer. You have the rest of your life to sculpt a rich social life . . . use college to build the foundation upon which it will sit. Public transportation, bike, scooter, old clunker, or even "shanks mare" are fine so long as they get you there and back. The unfortunate truth is that a lot of education debt is carried by "lifestyle" students for whom the education is secondary or perhaps even a necessary intrusion to keep the loans flowing. I was always taken by the observation that the cars in the student parking lot were newer and more expensive than most of those in the faculty lot. I probably had 75 jobs through undergrad, grad, and post grad years. This only added to my motivation to "stick to it" because I had no ambition to do any of them for the rest of my life. Don't go through your education — let it go through you.

April 08 2014 at 12:17 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to drbobdez's comment

Yes, food and clothing, health care and affordable housing must come second

April 08 2014 at 2:22 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Problem is "education to keep loans flowing" is not a never-ending tap. You reach your limit after a few years at most, and then you're left off worse than before, with a useless or even unfinished degree, no employment, and exponentially further in debt than before. Or if you do get a job, the loan repayment still bites you in the behind.

April 08 2014 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to pwanless's comment

Americans are in debt servitude for the rest of their lives. Private debt is out of control and US debt is at 17 trillion. but the avoidance and denial is larger than the debt.

April 08 2014 at 8:21 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down

This isn't fair! Everyone should have equal outcomes, regrdless of natural talent, effort, choices, or actually asking questions to find out what getting that job or promotion takes.

In all.seriousness, nice work young lady.

April 08 2014 at 9:19 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Nicely done! Much future success !!

April 08 2014 at 6:28 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to gkryspin's comment

Please. You asre buying into fraud when you say this. Americans do not go to college and when they do they suffer debt and crisis. For the rest of their lives.

April 08 2014 at 2:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to weilunion's comment

Sherrmorr wants to know why kids do not work when out of school. Are they lazy? Or did the 'retirees' who you see in Ace Hardware or Office Depot who are in their 70's take their sjobs for they had no retirement and would starve.

Which decade does the guy or woman live in? You are living in the end of Empire. Slow trickle down death

April 08 2014 at 8:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply