There was a time when going to university didn't involve going into debt, or at least not the kind that would take years to pay off. At some point, post-secondary education ceased to be an extension of the public school system and became a kind of corporate venture. Bean counters moved in. Courses and programs were offered even though few or no positions were available for graduates yet at the same time popular wisdom seemed to be that a degree or two was necessary for career advancement. Parents, with all good intentions, advised their children to follow the pattern that had worked for them. Trade school was often seen as the last resort for students who couldn't cut the academic courses.
University education also has a value that has nothing to do with job prospects but that is not as easily measured and valuated. If university education is your choice, know that there is a level of maturity required to get a degree without incurring horrendous debt, and it is not possessed by most eighteen year olds.
Some big picture advice involves living at home as long as possible, hopefully with supportive parents. Once you leave home, everything costs. Adding a spouse and children places you on a trajectory where stepping off to continue/pursue post-secondary education involves difficult choices. Canvas your friends and acquaintances. Returning to university with a spouse and children involves a considerable change in lifestyle as well as helpful parents and in-laws.
Find a job that makes accommodations for students with flexible hours and an understanding boss. Work one day a week at your busiest times and up the hours on holidays but be reliable and hardworking on the job. It's only fair.
Here are some smaller tips, direct from a university student with no debt:
- don't buy textbooks until you are sure you actually need them
- try to share textbooks with reliable students. Make a schedule to exchange
- buying your textbooks used and on-line is usually cheaper or even better see if they are available from the institution's library. Even if they are only available on reserve for two hours, work with that
- Culinary programs often sell students' products cheap
- farmers' markets may set up shop on campus but don't get caught up buying a lot of logo'd products at the campus shop
- hang out with frugal students; go to fun pot luck type of events with your cohorts
- College departments may arrange social events that are slightly relevant. eg. Archaeology department may screen Indiana Jones movies
- use campus computers for free. Printer costs are usually minimal. Wifi is free on campus; get the code if one is required
- Don't live on campus; it's usually not a good idea financially or academically
- Bring your own water bottle; many campuses have refilling stations conveniently located
- If you buy coffee on campus bring your own container. There's usually a discount.
- Campus gym is usually available for free at certain times
- You may be required to pay for a transit pass; use it if it is feasible. Or carpool
- Most campuses now require that you have extended health care or purchase theirs. This would be the time to arrange a dental or vision check-up