Budget Student's Guide to Life After College


When you reach the end of your college career, your path once again opens in front of you. Many low- and middle-income students feel pressured to immediately get a job in order to help support their family and to begin paying off their debt. But that’s not the only post-grad option available. With planning and financial savvy, there are just as many opportunities for students on a budget as for their big-bucks peers:

Work: Those who had to sling library books or dining hall trays have the advantage of entering the workforce with some actual experience under their belts. Even if you haven’t figured out your true calling or landed the ideal position, a few years in the workforce can help flesh out your resume and replenish your bank account while you figure out what you want to do when you grow up. And there’s nothing like bringing home the bacon after years spent shelling it out.

Internships: Most student lenders establish a grace period, between six months and a year, before recent grads have to start making their monthly payments. Internships, paid or unpaid, could be a great way to capitalize on that grace period while gaining invaluable job experience. If you’re not quite ready to settle into the 9-5 routine, internships are a way to test the career waters while keeping long-term plans flexible. They also provide an opportunity to network, so when Sallie Mae comes a-calling, you may have a full-time job (and salary) waiting.

Living abroad: You may never again get the chance to just pack it all up and move across the pond, without nagging responsibilities like a family or career to consider. And hey—getting paid to wait tables in euros might just be more lucrative than it would be in dollars. But be careful about the flip side of currency conversion rates. Make sure you’ve always got enough in your bank account for a plane ticket home. 

Graduate/professional school: An advanced degree could boost your expertise—and your eventual earning potential. Make sure you get as much preparation as you possibly can out of your undergrad school before moving on, whether that means taking the right classes or getting a resume once-over at the career center. You paid your tuition, so get your money’s worth before leaving.  Check for combined or accelerated programs to get you closer to your advanced degree while cutting back on accumulated debt. And again, it doesn’t hurt to parlay a working-class background into an excellent essay that better-off applicants can’t always match. 

Service opportunities: Teach for America, AmeriCorps, and the Peace Corps are all well-respected organizations that allow you to give back to various communities while making (modest) bank.  These programs are designed for recent, debt-saddled grads like yourself, and may offer loan forgiveness or deferment options to keep you afloat.

Low- and middle-income students are used to adapting, using their resources creatively, and working hard to get where they want to be. Says one such student at Wesleyan University, “People [who haven’t had to support themselves] will have a harder time when they get out of college. I mean, I have no idea what I’m doing right now, but I know I’ll be okay, because I’ve always been okay.” Compared to students from families with higher incomes, students on a budget have valuable experiences that make them uniquely prepared to get out there and conquer the post-college world.  And they know they’ll be okay—which is probably the best advantage of all.

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