How Should I Spend My University Days?

You have just got into university. A fresh 3 or 4 years worth of adventure waiting for you. You are free from your parents, whether you like it or not, and you are a free man or woman now. What should you do in order to get a headstart in terms of your finances as early as possible?

Let us do a reality check now:
1. University fees loan – approx $30,000 for 4 years
2. Essential living expenses and rental – approx $1200 a month
3. Miscellaneous fee such as buying a PC, going to parties – approx $300 a month
Conservatively speaking you need about $1500 a month to survive, and about $2125 if you breakdown your university loan into monthly payments. We shall round it up to $2200 for easier calculation.

Of course since we are already in university, the minimum requirement is to study and pass. If we can get a good result, that will be awesome. But if not, minimally pass or you are just wasting your time and money. Since our topic is on getting a headstart and doing well financially, I will skip all the fun stuffs such as joining the basketball team or the cheerleading team. They are fun of course, but please do not expect an out of the world experience like what you see in the movies. Getting a girlfriend and partying day and night is not something I will go in-depth into. I will just give a quick advice on life before moving on to the practical stuffs: Love yourself. Don’t do drugs. Don’t sleep around and get pregnant or get your girlfriend pregnant, much less getting some weird sexually transmitted disease. You are only young once, dare to explore, dare to try new things, but always remember to love and respect yourself and others.

Now that we have gotten the life advice down, let’s go into the practical stuffs. Cold hard cash. How to earn it, how to save it, how to survive the university all alone without parents and with a near empty bank account that has only a little money left from your previous savings. You are going to have to work hard and plan your time well.

Cramp Your Modules
The thing about university programmes is that they are always measured in terms of time. A 4 year university course basically means you have to complete for example 48 modules in 4 years, which is 12 modules a year or 6 modules per semester. Chances are probably you only need to complete 40 modules or something and the final year of your university is basically spent wasting time and enjoying life. University fees are charged by the semester, which means the faster you can complete your programme in time, the lesser fees you need to pay.

But universities will try to stop you from doing that. I remember during my university days, there were people who wanted to accelerate their programme. The university then said that the accelerated path is only offered to those who scored above a certain GPA, essentially wiping off a majority of the students. I too, fell into the trap of thinking I had no chance, until a fellow classmate told me that I need not listen to them. I just cramp my own modules, and as long as I complete on time, there is nobody stopping me from leaving school early. There was no absolute need to join their stupid official accelerated programme.

University actually contains a lot of fluff. What can be completed in 2 years is dragged out to 4 years. They make you study a lot of unnecessary things called electives, which are basically modules and subjects that has nothing to do with your main topic of study, in the name of an all-rounded university education. While certain core modules have to be taken first before moving on to the next, for example Calculus I has to be completed before you move on to Calculus II, there are also core modules that are independent of others. You cannot do anything about core modules that have to be taken in order, but electives and independent core modules can be squeezed as long as you can find the time slot.

I completed my university in 3.5 years because I started cramping late due to various reasons. But if I could start earlier, completing a 4 year degree in 3 years is no issue. If you could squeeze just one extra module per semester, you will complete everything half a year early. If you manage to squeeze 2 extra modules per semester, you could shave off 1 whole year. Not only do you save time, university fees, you could also get out to work early and start earning actual money while your peers are still paying for their education. From spending money, you have moved on to earning money. The difference in headstart in terms of finance and career is significant.

Get The Right Part Time Job
Naturally, we need a job to survive. But you need to choose the right part time job. Everyone can flip burgers at McDonalds, but you need to find a job that earns you the most money in the shortest possible time. Basically you need to be efficient with your labour. Flipping burger netts you like $7 per hour? Sure they provide meals, but you can only use that as a temporary measure while you find the job that pays better. For example, you can provide tuition to elementary or high school students. We call them primary and secondary school students in Singapore though. You are in a university! Surely, your intellect and your academic knowledge is sufficient to teach young children! Tuition pays well. I do not know about other parts of the world, but in Singapore, I remember teaching a primary school student for $30 per hour and a secondary school student for $45 an hour. Do not waste what you have obtained. Your knowledge is a resource. Why flip burger for $10 an hour including tips when you could easily earn multiples of that?

Or do you have other skills? Piano skills? I had a friend whose brother played the piano in the hotel lobby as a part time job, earning himself $80 an hour. I also had friends who taught violin for $80 an hour. How about Photoshop skills? You can get freelance work out there. I did translation work for someone at about $30 an hour. My proficiency in 2 languages is also a skill. Remember the primary purpose of your part time job is to earn quick money. Whether it helps you in your future or not does not matter. Flipping burger ain’t going to look good on your resume either.

The only exception is this: You have a part time job in a company related to what you are studying, or that you have a part time job in a company which you really wish to get in. Then that is early career advancement, the purpose is no longer earning money but to build the foundation for your future career. But even so, at least try to get a bit of work in tuition or something. You still need to eat and pay rent.

Getting Internships
Most universities will require you to work at least one internship before graduating you. This internship may either be allocated by the universities through their partnerships with the companies, or they just ask you to go find on your own (as was what happened with me). Internships are meant for your career advancement, to work in a place related to your studies. Just as important is the experience in working in a proper setting. When you are out in the workforce being paid a proper salary, bosses are less forgiving of your mistakes. When I first started out, I made a lot of mistakes and was corrected a lot. My colleague who came half a year after me, fresh out from school, once lamented that everyday she was proving to our boss that hiring her was a mistake.

But when you are paid a lowly sum in the name of internship, people’s expectations of you are lower and you can learn at a more relaxing pace. Do not waste your semester holidays. Every year you have 1 big holiday, use it to secure an internship and learn. Of course I would reject all the unpaid internship offers. Even if it is a lowly sum, an intern should still be paid. Do not let anyone exploit you. Your search for internship should start about 3 months before your holidays. Get the experience, build the foundation for your career while still in school and learn as much as you can. You may or may not work for the same company each internship, but that is up to you. Feel free to explore. For all you know, if you do well, the company may offer you a job even before you graduate! Do not think that just because you are paid a low salary, you do not work hard. You still work hard (though not until you have to clock 12 hours a day, everyday), because what you are aiming for is the work and learning experience. The more you work, the more you learn how things are handled and you also get to know more people and the different kinds of people in society.

YOLO Constructively
Do you want to be a Youtuber? Or a gamer livestreaming on Twitch? This is the best time for you to do so. Try out your hobbies, see if it works. When you are out in the society for good, on top of learning the ropes at your job and gaining your bosses’ and colleagues’ recognition, there are more distractions too. Dinner with the pretty lady in the cubicle beside. More salary now means more parties and shopping. Or just simply endless overtime at work.

University time is a good time to try out things you always wanted to. Be it livestreaming, setting up a side business, learning trading and investing, mountain climbing, whatever. Although mountain climbing cost money, but it is an experience too. 3 or 4 years in university is a long enough time to try a lot of things. Spend it wisely. For all you know, your Youtubing or side business adventure is a success and it opens up more path for you. But always remember, in whatever you do, persist. Success of any form does not come easy.

Overseas Exchange
Offered usually to people who does well academically and has the money to spend. If you can go for it, I would say go for it. It cost money yes, but the experience you get will truly be memorable. You will open up your eyes and see what other countries are like. The relationships and network you forged over there will most likely be temporary, and soon to be forgotten after you come back. But you never know. Going overseas will allow you to learn a lot of things. See how others live, work and do things. There may be opportunities you discover over there which you can bring it back and apply. There may be a gap of information which people do not know, and you can be a bridge connecting them and turn them into a side business. I learnt a lot when I was living overseas.

Get A Credit Card
In some countries, banks partner with universities to offer a low level credit card. I remembered my first credit card in my university days was a Citibank Visa card with a $500 monthly limit. This applies more to the US, but if you can get a credit card, get it in the earliest possible time and level up your credit score. Use your credit card and pay your bills on time. Credit score takes time to build up.

Cook Yourself
Cooking yourself is immensely cheaper than buying from outside. Learn how to cook yourself and be independent. Every cent saved can be used towards building up your snowball of wealth, or to be spent on other more meaningful things. Wash your laundry yourself rather than taking it to the laundry shop too.

There are things above which I did, and there are things I wished others would advise me earlier. I hope this article will be useful to those of you who are entering, or have already entered university. Parents who read this can also relay this to your children.

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