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To Credit Card or Not to Credit Card

You have probably been at the checkout in a retailer and had the cashier ask if you would like to open a store credit card.  My college student did this just this past month.  When the card arrived in the mail at our house, he had no idea he had opened a credit card. The way it was packaged in the store it sounded more like a loyalty membership card of some sort. Credit cards are more accessible than ever before with stores and financial institutions continuing to streamline the process making it incredibly easy to start piling up credit card debt.  There was even a time, prior to the Card Act of 2009, on a college campus where you would see booths in place outside the union where credit card companies would pass out applications and free t-shirts.    Not to be taken the wrong way, there are uses for credit cards when used responsibly.  The temptation to use them for reasons that might be ill-advised is a hard one to resist.

Credit card companies are willing to take a measured risk for a small balance, think $300-$500, for a college student with little to no credit history.  Even if they experience higher losses on this population, they are in search of borrowers that they can engage in a cycle of credit use and potentially become lifelong customers.  The long-term reward far outweighs their risk. But what about your risk right now?

When might a credit card be a good idea? How do you know when you are ready to take on that responsibility?  Building credit responsibly is a smart idea.  At some point in life, you will want to apply for a car loan or even a home loan. If you have not established any positive credit history then getting approved for a larger loan may be difficult, if not impossible.  Without positive credit history, even leasing an apartment may prove hard without the help of a co-signer.  Note that it is POSITIVE credit history that you are working to establish.  Even seemingly small slip ups with a monthly payment now can impact your ability to obtain these other types of credit for months and years to come.

Make sure you understand how credit cards, interest rates and repayment work before signing on the dotted line and adding a balance to your new card.  Credit card companies will require you to make a minimum monthly payment.  That payment is typically enough to cover the interest you owe for that period and to just barely eat away at the balance.  Paying the minimum payment on even a $500 balance could cause it to take over three years to pay it off.  In three years, you likely will not even remember what you charged on the card in the first place!  Also make sure you are making your payments on a timely basis if you decide to carry a balance.  A negative payment, even if just one month, can stay with your credit report and score for at least 24-months.

You can do a self-assessment of your readiness to be a credit card account holder.  Do you have a bank account with a debit card?  How successfully have you managed that account and that debit card?  If you have managed it well and avoided things likes bounced checks or overdrawing your account, that is a good indicator. Do you have a steady source of income, even if just part-time income, that would provide enough money each month to make a timely credit card payment while still covering your other expenses?  If so, then your budget would seem to be equipped to cover a payment should you decide to carry a balance.

Even with all that, if you are still not quite sure you are ready to take on a credit card you can consider the alternative of a secured credit card.  This option may even be one your parents might join in on to help you get started responsibly with credit use. A secured credit card will also have a relatively low balance, a few hundred dollars.  The difference is that you put that amount of cash in an account at the financial institution so that if you do not make your monthly payments, they can recoup their debt with those monies.  You will make regular monthly payments on a secured card and it will be reported to your credit report.  This option provides you a bit of a safety net to prove to yourself you are ready for the responsibility of making those monthly payments and not overcharging. Above all, make sure you feel well-informed before opening your first credit card.  Ask questions, understand the terms, and understand what that purchase is really going to cost you if you pay it back over a period of time.  Most importantly if you do not understand then do not be afraid to ask the question.  If you can discuss this with a parent or a trusted adviser, they can help you understand how to enter the world of credit with your best financial foot forward!

College Experience Resume Builders

Are good grades and a part-time job on your resume going to be enough to land that job you are chasing after graduation?  The reality of today’s job market would say not likely.  Soon to be graduates should view the job hunt as a competition.  Potential employers will scan the new graduate’s resume in search of highlights that make them likely candidates to add value to the organization sooner rather than later.   Even with a full course load and a part-time gig, there are ways you can build out your resume while in school while still managing your time wisely.

The good news is those resume builders are not a secret and not hard to act on – here are just a few!

Find clubs or on-campus groups that are of interest to you and align well with your career field.  As you engage in these groups, do not hesitate to tackle a leadership role.  Participation in groups like these demonstrates initiative, shows broad interest in your chosen career field and also evidence of leadership aptitude.  Not only that, these clubs and groups are a great way to meet new people with similar interests – a double win!

Not planning on taking summer courses?  An internship in your field of study can add more value to your resume potentially than just a summer part-time job back home.  Yes, a summer job can help you put some money in the bank.  But consider that the value of the internship, even if a non-paid internship, is far greater than the money in the bank.  Make your time at your internship count.  Seek out individuals that you can connect with and learn from at the office or over a lunch.  Add these contacts to your file and build connections that may serve you well in the future as you begin looking for that first job out of school.

Even with just a little bit of extra time to spare you can find your way to volunteer opportunities that both help you serve your community and add depth to your resume.  So many organizations today set the bar high for their employees to give back.  Some companies go so far as to even grant a set number of paid time off hours for employees to use for volunteerism.  Volunteer options in your field of interest are one way to think about your volunteer time.  Having time devoted to volunteer opportunities outside your field of interest are okay as well.  Companies appreciate a well-rounded employee that is giving back to their community with passionate commitment to something they care deeply about.

For the more adventurous, make a way to spend time studying abroad for a semester.  Depending on your career field, this may be relevant as a resume builder.  If you determine this is a relevant idea for your career field, this type of study abroad option is one that will make a resume stand out.  The courage to take a leap and make an international semester happen provides tangible direct benefits.  This also tells a potential employer something about you as an individual.

Use your part-time job to your fullest advantage.  If you have made the commitment to work while completing your studies, even if not in your career field, look for opportunities to highlight skills that any employer would find value in regardless of the field.  Did you work your way up through the ranks and take on supervisory or management responsibilities?  Were you able to lead projects or other efforts to successful completion and impact the organization? Did you contribute to the culture of the company?  You are building a highlight reel of transferable skills – make it one worth watching!

In today’s world it is common for potential employers check out the presence, or personal brand, you have built for yourself with a quick Google search once your resume hits their desk.  Think about the personal brand image you have developed on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more.  You may have built your current online footprint without much planning involved.  Have you added positive value with that brand, or does it detract from story you are trying to tell a future employer?  Social media platforms are an incredible opportunity to tell your audience who you are, what you are about and what is important to you.  Be intentional with your content.

More than anything, the real point of all of this is to see the time you have in college as an opportunity to build a launch pad into your career.  You can pick from these ideas and find ways to build your resume without overdoing your time commitments.  Look for opportunities to combine goals and objectives – volunteer with friends and build your resume while spending social time with them, engage in that study abroad semester and make the most of the opportunity to explore another part of the world or land that amazing internship and put some money in your bank account over the summer while putting some contacts on your list for when you graduate.  The only resource you cannot replenish is time.  Use yours wisely!


Perks of Working a Part-Time Job in College

There are definite perks to snagging a part-time job while attending college.  Even so, there are things to think about before you make that commitment to ensure you maintain the balance necessary to succeed in your academic pursuits! 

Covering the benefits seems easy –

We should start with the most obvious perk of course – spending money!  The independence that comes with having your own source of funds is a definite plus.  Besides having your own stash of cash to use for fun you can also use it to offset educational expenses to some degree.  To the extent this allows you to take out lower student loans or avoid putting expenses on high interest credit cards you come out a winner in the end.

Learning the value of effective time management sooner rather than later is key.  Balancing a full course load, the studies required to be successful and the commitment to a part time job is tricky business.  Finding a job that fits well with your academic schedule demands is an important consideration.  You can look for on-campus jobs to minimize the commute to work time and perhaps even limit your hours to avoid nights and weekends.

If the goal of completing college is to eventually secure a good job, getting a part-time job now can help with that objective by building out your resume.  Even if your part-time job is not in your desired field, the right mix of academic performance, extracurricular activities and a part-time job will demonstrate to future employers that you have a strong ability to balance competing responsibilities.  If you can land a part-time job in your field of study, even better, you’ll get the aforementioned benefits as well as experience in your desired field!

Understanding how to properly manage your budget before you get out of school and start to have more significant monthly expenses gives you a leg up on life.  When it is your money coming in and going out, having a heightened awareness to where it is going is helpful.  Practice budgeting now and establish the method that works best for you and it will serve you well going forward.

Building your network over time will create a web of contacts that you may draw upon in the future.  Even if your part-time job is outside your desired career field, having positive references or contacts in other industries can be a differentiator for you.  As you make a solid impression on people you interact with in your job, make sure you exchange contact information or become connected on LinkedIn.  Building a network happens over time, not overnight.

Things to think about before you say “YES” to that part-time job offer –

Make sure you are keenly aware of any grade point average requirements related to any scholarships you received.  If working part-time will jeopardize your ability to maintain that grade point average, you should seriously think about not working right now.  The value of the scholarship likely far outweighs what you might earn in a part-time job so go where the math leads you.

Part of the college experience is to enjoy the process and engage in extracurricular activities, particularly if they can benefit you later in life.  Be sure to balance the hours you commit to working at a part-time job to still afford you the opportunity to get the most out of the college experience on all fronts.  Over-extending yourself can lead to an unnecessarily high stress level, burn out or exhaustion – that is not the goal!

After thinking through all of this for perspective, you will be well equipped to make the best choice for you regarding taking a part-time job or not.  It is definitely and individual decision.  If you do decide to take the job, keep the benefits above top of mind to ensure you get the full advantage of that commitment.

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Headed to College – What to Take (Besides Everything)

It seems like a basic question and an overwhelming question all at the same time.  You are headed to college and don’t know what to pack.  This may be particularly true if this is your first time moving away from home.  You will want to make sure you take the essentials and some personal items to make your new home feel like home.  The good news is there is a list of basics to think about and beyond that just know it will work itself out, I promise!   It is hard to imagine something you may forget that you couldn’t find locally or get on your next trip home.  So knowing that, don’t stress and enjoy the ride!

Before you start loading your car or moving truck be sure to check in with your school to ensure you know what items you can take and which ones they do not allow in your room.  Not all schools are the same and they even may change their rules from year to year.  If you signed a lease or some type of contract for your dorm room, make sure you review it carefully for any items to exclude from your list. 

Knowing you will have more than just this one trip to get it right means it isn’t necessary this first trip to pack all of your clothes for all seasons of weather.   If you know you will be home for the holidays, pack what you think you will need based on the climate your school is in and swap it out when you come home.   Chances are your dorm room or apartment is limited in size and if you take it all now you may have a hard time finding a spot to put it all.  Clutter in your space can be a distraction so as you go through your closet, err on the side of less is more.  You know you’ll buy a college shirt (or several!) when you arrive to supplement the clothes you bring from home!

Of course, if you are fortunate enough to have an older sibling or a friend that has recently gone off to college you will benefit from asking them for their insights on what to take on this adventure.  They might be the best equipped to give you the most practical suggestions from firsthand experience.  What did they forget that caused them frustration?  What did they take and never once use?  Pick their brain and put their good advice to use.

Now let’s get started on what to throw in your boxes!

For Your Room

Bed Sheets (get the right size!)

Comforter

Pillow(s) & Pillowcase(s)

Extra Blanket or Throw

Mattress Pad

Alarm Clock

Hangers

Lamp

Fan

Message or Pin Board

Dry Erase Markers

Sticky Wall Mounts or Adhesive Hooks

Television or Stereo (if allowed)
Gaming System

HDMI Cord

Storage containers

Posters

Personal Pictures

Small Area Rug

Wastebasket

Desk Lamp

Desk Chair (if not provided)

Bean Bag/Futon

For When You’re Hungry

Favorite coffee cup

Dishes – cups, dishes, utensils for in room eats

Salt & Pepper Shakers

Mini-fridge (make sure they allow one!)

Paper towels

Small plastic containers to seal up snacks

Re-useable Water Bottle

Dish Towel

Dish Scrubber

Can Opener

Starting Supply of Snacks

Ziploc Bags (various sizes)

Keeping it all Clean

Clorox Wipes

Paper Towels

Hand Soap

Bath Soap

Shampoo/Conditioner

Razor/Shaving Cream

Deodorant

Any Medications

Grooming Tools (Brush, Curling Iron)

Toothbrush/Toothpaste/Floss

Lotion/Cosmetics

Bathrobe (if community shower)

Shower Bag

Shower Shoes

Nail clippers

Towels/Washcloths

Hair Dryer

Kleenex

Laundry Supplies

Dish Soap

School Supplies

Folders

Paper

Pens &Pencils

Highlighters

Calculator

Laptop

Backpack

Post-it Notes

Stapler

Stamps

Index Cards

Tape

Hole Punch

What to Wear – Comfortable is King

Clothes (season appropriate)

Workout gear

Pajamas

Underclothes/Socks

Jewelry

Sunglasses

Hat

Belt

Watch

Iron/Ironing Board (if allowed)

Lint Brush

Swimsuit

Jacket or Coat (if needed)

Winter accessories (if needed)

Shoes / slippers

1-2 Nice Outfits (just in case)

And of Course, the Random

First Aid Kit

Aspirin/Advil

Umbrella

Sewing Kit w/ Scissors

Flashlight

Batteries

Phone Charger

Power Strip

Headphones

Scale

Thermometer

Small Basic Toolkit

Insurance Cards

Bike

Bike Lock

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College Just Ahead - Blog 2020.05.13

College is Just Ahead – The Next Great Adventure!

As you think about heading off to college in the next few months, there is no doubt that a great adventure lies ahead!  And while there is no doubt adventure will be involved, the reality is that intermingled with those fabulous new experiences will be times when it does not quite resemble that mental picture of perfection you have in your head.  The most important thing now is to know that and to be as prepared as you can for whatever lies ahead.

Establish Habits Early On

In your new setup, you will be solely responsible for ensuring you maneuver successfully through your changing responsibilities.  Establishing a strong foundation of solid habits at the outset can be key to your success.  Start each day with a plan.  Step back each week to assess the week behind you.  Spend time looking to the week and month ahead to ensure your upcoming deadlines are well accounted for in your plan.  Distill the outcome of this reflection to a planning structure that works best for you, whether in some electronic format or even a simple list system that you use to maintain your course.  Make certain that the structure you create allows for the necessary time devoted to your studies, but also allows for some much-needed downtime as well.

A great book to read over the summer as you prepare for your first semester is Atomic Habits by James Clear.  An excellent guide to starting good habits, stopping bad habits and for designing an environment that is built to enable your future success!

Structured Studying

There are numerous ways to engage your mind in studying and preparing for each of your courses.  Building this structured studying effort focused on being prepared for each class and staying current will be key.  Carrying a full course load is nearly a full-time job.  For example, if you are taking 12-hours of coursework you should expect to spend at least 1-2 hours outside each classroom hour, sometimes more, doing assigned reading, working on assignments and papers or studying for exams.  This quantity of studying won’t happen unless you properly plan for it.  Identify study methods that work best for your style of learning – consider self-study and study group options as part of this structure.

Get Involved

Take time upon arrival on campus to identify opportunities to engage in your new community through clubs, organizations or volunteer opportunities that are of interest to you.   Do not make the mistake of waiting for these groups to seek you out but make it a priority to seek them out first.  Involvement in your local community has numerous benefits, but one of the most basic is that it connects you to people that have similar interests.  Building your network of friends and acquaintances expands your ever-growing circle of localized resources which is key to your success.  College is a great place where you can take classes and learn about the career field you have identified.  If you find you are not yet fully committed to that field or have possible interest in another, this is also a perfect opportunity to explore new areas of interest with elective coursework or organizations you choose to engage in.  You may find this leads you down a different path or you may find the confirmation you seek in the path you have selected.

Take Care of Yourself

Time devoted to your academic pursuits is important, but just as important is making sure that you have a plan to take care of yourself in the process.  Be intentional about carving out time to spend with friends, to engage in physical exercise and to explore your new surroundings.  This may seem basic, but when you are faced with due dates and deadlines it is easy to forget to stop and take a time out on occasion.  Use these breaks as outlets and rewards for a job well done as you successfully knock off your academic goals.

Self-Advocacy and Resources

You will always be your own best advocate.  Advocating for yourself in a new environment can be scary or difficult at times.   Bear in mind that you are best equipped to understand your needs and communicate those to others around you that are in a position to help.  As part of this process, do not forget you have numerous resources you can tap into for help along the way.   You pay a lot of money via tuition and that gives you access to these resources.  They can include resources like tutoring, office hours with professors, campus counseling, career resources and more. Far too often, college students do not take advantage of these resources.  The people working in these offices are experts who are experienced in working through common challenges of young adults in this important transition from high school to college.

Be open to the idea of a network of mentors and actively be on the lookout for them as you go through each day.  Mentors come from a variety of places and can be peers, older students, professors or local community leaders.  Selecting quality mentors and absorbing their well-intentioned advice creates yet another pathway to success.

Your Parents & Family Back Home

Remember this time of transition is just as difficult, maybe even more so, on your parents or family back home than it is on you.  While your view of this experience is one covered in the excitement of a big new adventure, they are working through the difficult realization that you have in fact grown up on them!   Be patient with the ones you love as they navigate uncharted waters.  Recognize that they may come across as over-bearing and trying to control your new adventure from afar, but rest assured they have only your best outcome in mind!

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College is so much more than just an extension of a learning process begun in high school.  College truly is going to be your next great adventure.  It will be what you make of it and you will be the primary determining factor of your success.  Be prepared to embrace new things – new friends, new experiences, new cultures and new learning.  You did not arrive where you are by accident.  Your hard work and determination got you to this point – this launch pad of great adventure!  Good luck!