Updated on 09.14.09

The Simple Dollar Podcast #16: College Advice

Trent Hamm

The sixteenth episode of The Simple Dollar podcast deals with college advice. What did my own college experience teach me in terms of what’s most useful during your college years? Here’s a hint – too much time in the classroom is a negative. Total time – 9:25.

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Episode Notes
Here are some additional notes that go alongside the comments in the podcast. Approximate times for the corresponding links and notes are listed.

0:00 – The theme song is a snippet of a Camper van Beethoven concert on October 25, 1986, shared via their very open taping policy. Listen to the concert in its entirety.
0:35 – Here’s some basic advice for managing cash in college.
1:10 – Is college even really necessary?
2:01 – Here’s how to minimize accumulated stuff in college (which amounts to lost money).
3:41 – Here are ten key things any college student can do to prepare for success in life.
5:02 – My college career wasn’t exactly perfect.
7:11 – A great book on the college experience (from a financial perspective) is Dara Duguay’s Please Send Money.
8:40 – Some advice to college students at the end of their college career.
9:20 – A preview of next week.

One thing I’d like to do in a future episode is have an audio reader’s mailbag. If you have a microphone on your computer and can record an MP3 of a simple, short question you might have on personal finance, careers, pop culture, or anything else you’d like me to answer, record it as an MP3 and send it to me. Keep the total recording under 15 seconds, please. Also, if you use Skype, feel free to ask your question that way – my username is trenttsd.

Comments and suggestions welcome.

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  1. Johanna says:

    Joining too many student groups is a negative, too. There’s nothing wrong with going to lots of organizational meetings – that’s where most of the free pizza tends to be – but when it comes to actually committing to the groups, it may be better to pick just a few of them that really interest you. College student groups tend to be much larger time commitments than the equivalent high school groups are, so it’s easy to find yourself overextended if you’re not careful. At my high school, for example, it wasn’t unusual for someone who was at all musically inclined to be in the concert choir, the show choir, the stage band, the marching band, the orchestra, *and* the musical theater group, whereas at my university, you’d be nuts to attempt to do more than one of those, or maybe two. For me, it was hard for a while to get rid of the high-school mindset of “I must pad my resume with a mile-long list of extracurricular activities,” but once I did trim my schedule back to only those things I was truly interested in, I was much happier.

    Also, your body can do without World of Warcraft, but it cannot do without sleep, no matter what you may like to think. Get enough of it.

  2. Borealis says:

    My best advice to well prepared college students is to take advanced (AP) courses in high school, but DO NOT TEST OUT FOR COLLEGE CREDIT.

    If you get AP credit for calculus or physics or chemistry, or other tough course, you will need to move on to the next level of the courses right away. Instead, take intro calculus, physics, chemistry, etc., and you will do very well in the course in your freshman year. You will get A’s and improve your GPA, and you will gain confidence and do better in your other classes.

    The other route is to get AP credit for those courses, but then dive into very difficult courses your first semester, which is very hard.

    If a student is on the pre-med route, this is vital. You get relatively easy A’s your first semester or two, and you get to understand the basics very well, which will lead to better grades in the advanced classes.

  3. kristine says:

    I’d recommend for any aspiring student: What Colleges Don’t Tell You, and What Other Parents Don’t Want You to Know.” Written by an admissions officer of a top tier school. Lots of good info.

  4. Mol says:

    I don’t know whether to comment here or on the mailbag, but…

    I just changed my status from a part time student to a full time student and I feel like all I am doing anymore is reading. I love reading, but I have never read SO much. My brain hurts during all this reading and I still have more to read. Do you have any suggestions on brain exercises, or will my brain just adapt? Or something?

  5. Mol says:

    I would also like to recommend the book Hacking College which is available online at The Library at hackingcollege.com it also has a lot of good insider info from an author who basically made a career of being a student and is now a speaker.

  6. Julia says:


    I would actually suggest something slightly different. Take those AP classes to give you a leg up in the intro classes that are in fields you’ll be continuing in. Don’t worry about testing out of those.

    But absolutely take the AP tests for classes/subject areas that you are not at all interested in, so that you can get some basic core classes out of the way.

    For instance, a science-minded student who was in an AP history would benefit from testing out of that AP history to make more room in their schedule for either more elective classes or a lighter load of classes in an especially difficult or busy semester.

  7. Johanna says:

    @Julia: What you are suggesting would not work at every school. At the university I attended, for example, AP credits couldn’t be applied toward the “distribution requirements” (their version of a core curriculum). You had to take a certain number of social science classes, no matter how many AP credits you had – the AP scores were only good for letting you skip the intro classes and go straight to the more advanced classes if you so chose.

    As for the suggestion of taking AP classes in the subject you plan to major in, and then repeating the intro classes anyway, I’d say that also depends. Do you feel confident and comfortable in your mastery of the material, or do feel like you could use a refresher? Are you going to college to learn and challenge yourself as much as possible, or to get a piece of paper with a bunch of As on it (so you can get into a good medical school, for example)? For me, when I started college as a math major, I would have been really, really bored if I’d taken the introductory calculus sequence from the very beginning – I was eager to get to the more advanced classes, pretty much all of which had 3 semesters of calculus as prerequisites.

  8. Johanna says:

    Re: “to get a piece of paper with a bunch of As on it”

    I phrased this poorly. I know that many people view college primarily as a means to an end in the pursuit of a particular career, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And in some competitive careers, as I understand it, having a high GPA is important, to the point where students who take easier classes and get better grades are at an advantage over students who take harder classes and get poorer grades. I think that’s unfortunate, but I don’t fault the students in those fields for playing by the rules. However, it’s important to realize that not every student is in that position, and so Borealis’s advice is not universal.

  9. Tony Marren says:

    My advice on college;

    1. Utilize the College Level Examination Program testing program to cut back on tuition over the long haul.

    2. Go to school spring and summer terms–the work load is easier and you learn absolute essentials versus fall winter semesters which sometimes get “filler” material ridden.

    3. Run college like a marathon race–even keeled and ongoing reminder that GRADUATION is the goal line to maintain.

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