So you’re headed off to college in the next few weeks, and you’re taking a spin around the ol’ search engine looking for a “dorm checklist” or whatever, to tell you what it is you’re going to need to take with you to the prestigious university of your choice (or second or third choice).
And believe me, you should be doing that. Those checklists are correct about the shower thongs (the flip-flop shoe kind, not the undergarment kind), and really, really, you do need a can opener. Forget the iron unless you’ve actually used one before in your life – if you haven’t up till now, you’re not going to while trying to run out the door to an 8am class.
But what these checklists often leave off is the “money stuff.” My entire freshman class showed up with either no checking account, or they had one… at a credit union “back home,” 300 miles away. Yeah, that’ll do you a lot of good once you’ve drained it buying textbooks. Speaking of buying textbooks…
No college checklist is complete without a mention of textbooks. I urge you to be the one smart freshman on your campus, and avoid the campus bookstore like the plague. They will offer you just about the worst prices on new and used textbooks ever. Instead, here’s what you do (assuming you have your class schedule already):
- Your school’s bookstore probably has a website, and most likely, it even has a handy-dandy textbook look-up. Enter in your class numbers and find out what textbooks it thinks you need.
- Track down the email addresses of each and every one of your professors. Right now. Email them and ask if the books listed on the bookstore website are the ones you actually need for class (tell them which books are listed on the website). It happened to me every semester: I’d walk into at least one class with the textbooks, and the professor would go “Oh, is that still listed on the website? You don’t need that book…” ARGH.
- Use the handy-dandy internet to track down that book from someone else on your campus. Facebook has a marketplace (you’re on Facebook, right?), and there are tons of websites dedicated to connecting students to buy and sell textbooks directly. (Such as Starving Scholars and BookSwap.com.) Also look for campus-specific textbook exchange sites. For example, my school has BookMaid.
- If that doesn’t work, search Amazon, BigWords.com and Half.com for used books. There’s also Chegg for textbook rentals (Chegg link includes a coupon!). If you can’t find it online, your dick professor picked the most obscure book s/he could find… and that means you’re screwed for this class – you just gotta swallow it and pay the bookstore price. Good luck!
Now that you’ve dropped all but your last dime on textbooks, you’ll need somewhere to put that dime! Now, you could certainly wait until you get to campus to think about opening a new account. Don’t worry, all of the local banks will set up tables during orientation, so you can easily sign up right there! No need to compare, just go for the one that offers the free T-shirt and lanyard!
Ok, sarcasm over. Seriously, there’s no reason you can’t investigate banks from home before you go to school. The best thing to do is seek out a bank that has branches both in your home town, and in your university town. In general, this means the big banks. The big banks should offer you a free checking account for being a college student. If they don’t? They’re lame, ignore them. No matter how many lanyards they have. Do not pay for a checking account.
After you’ve got a checking account set up, attach a high yield savings account to it – even if you only have a dollar to put in there. Hey, that dollar could be earning almost five cents a year! That’s a nickel you didn’t have before. Also, high yield savings accounts are insanely useful for loan money that you don’t have to spend right away (like for textbooks).
You’re not gonna eat 21 meals a week in the dining hall, and if you do… then you’re “that kid that eats every meal in the dining hall.” Also, don’t steal all the forks from the dining hall, either. You only need two.
… All bets are off with you guys and money. I saw one guy finance a sophomore project for $3000 on credit cards. Who spends $3000 on a sophomore project? And more importantly, what did his thesis cost him? Just be warned that film school is insanely expensive and the degree doesn’t mean anything in LA… but the experience and the networking mean everything, so spend your money on stuff that will help you learn (and on booze to make more film friends).