14 Common & Costly College Student Don’ts

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14 Common & Costly College Student Don'ts

College can be an exciting time in your life; its a new chapter where you’re on your own for the first time and making all of your own decisions. Start out on the right foot, by avoiding costly mistakes.

It’s easy to make these 14 common slips ups as a new (or even as an experienced) college student.

Minimize the impact of such mistakes by becoming familiar with them ahead of time. And yes, you may still end up making some of these mistakes, but at least you’ll have all the facts so you can make an informed decision.

And hopefully, you can avoid at least a few of these and end up saving yourself money and headaches.

We’ll cover:

14 Common Mistakes Made by College Students

1.) Changing Your Major

student working on laptop

Your first year as a college student is mainly for taking prerequisite courses like math, English, and basic science. You don’t usually get into the “meat” of your planned career until the foundation classes have been completed. However, many of you may have taken these classes in high school and already received those college credits.

No matter where you are as a college student, you want to be very careful about changing your major. If you are a junior and change your major, you’ll have a real dilemma to consider. Instead of getting a degree in 4 years, you may have to do an extra year (or more) making it 5.

No one wants their degree to take longer and there is also the added cost of more credits to take into account, as well. So, how do you know what you really want to do with your life?

If you are not sure, then consider volunteer work. If you are interested in a career, most places will have a volunteer program in place that you can utilize to get some hands-on experience. It lets you test the waters to see if it’s really all you imagined it to be.

A lot of medical professionals are open to letting you shadow them if you are interested in the career. Volunteering or shadowing is more helpful than researching on the internet.

You get real interaction and get to see how things are really run. This will help you decide on a path to take in college and keep you on track to graduate on time. Keep in mind your passions, interests, and classes you enjoyed in high school.

In the end, though, your top priority should be leaving college with a degree that can help you accomplish your long-term goals, including your own personal happiness. If you need to change your major, then you need to change your major.

I don’t recommend finishing a degree that you hate. Chances are that you’ll go into a career field where you’re miserable and eventually end up quitting, making that degree you spent so much time on practically useless.

If you’re just starting out with college, spend some time during your preliminary year thinking about what type of jobs you’re interested in and finalizing your degree course plans. If you’re in the position where you are going to change your major, also spend a good amount of time deciding on your new major.

It’s better to change it just once because each time you do it’s going to cost you. That’s why it’s important to be thinking things through thoroughly, before making the switch.

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2.) Cancelling Classes

It’s okay to cancel a class. You may have signed up for something at the wrong time, or just need a change. Canceling a class after the deadline will cost you money!

Each school has a time frame of when you can cancel a class and still get a refund. Don’t be lazy – even one day late could cost you money.

If you paid $300 for a class and don’t take it, that’s just wasted money that could have been better used on other college needs.

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3.) Not Applying for Financial Aid

college student

If you think you shouldn’t bother with filling out financial aid forms because you won’t qualify for assistance, then you’re wrong! Even if you do not anticipate getting any grants, these forms are helpful if you need to take a loan.

It’s pretty hard to get a loan when you are first out on your own before your credit score has been built up. Filling out the forms will qualify you for a portion of unanticipated financial aid you may need via student loans.

You may even be surprised that you do qualify for a grant (free money to help pay for school!). If you don’t, you will still have the option to borrow money as needed.

Did you know student loans wait for you to pay them back? If you are in school and take a loan each semester, as a college student you are not required to pay it back until after you finish school.

They also give you some time to get a job after school ends before you start paying. Plus, school loans have lower payment thresholds compared to other types of loans.

Each year the qualifications change a little, but you may be required to fill out the form based on your parent’s income. I know this seems unfair as they have worked their whole lives what they are making now and you are just starting out. Unfortunately, there is no way around this rule.

If you don’t get any financial aid based on your parent’s income, you may need to opt to take those student loans as a college student. Find out if you are a dependent student or an independent student here.

The deadline for financial aid is early! Generally, it’s in January for the fall semester of the same year. The paperwork is long and you need a lot of information, so don’t wait till the last minute to fill it out.

Find out your deadline here (based on your state).

And, be careful when borrowing – this is money you must pay back! If you do need a student loan, take ONLY what you need.

You don’t want to graduate college, only to start a new job and have to pay half of your wages to loans. You can learn more about student aid here.

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4.) Missing Class as a College Student

Don’t skip classes! Some professors don’t care how many classes you miss, as long as you make the grade. Other classes have attendance requirements.

Each professor will tell you what is expected of you for attendance when classes start, or you can find that information on the class syllabus. It would be a good idea to keep track of that information (save your syllabuses!).

And okay you don’t have to be perfect, there will be some instances where you need to skip a class to finish a paper for a different class (paradox, but true). And sometimes, you can get away with missing a class because you’re confident in the subject matter.  However, just because you can – doesn’t mean you should.

College classes can cover a lot of material and missing just one day could make the difference between letter grades. The best way to avoid this is to sign up for classes that fit your schedule best.

If you are not a morning person, don’t sign up for an early morning class. You know yourself and your habits best, make decisions based on that.

When you are a college student, no one is going to let you know when you are failing. Professors won’t chase you down for missed assignments either. You are on your own, so make the commitment and attend all your classes so you don’t miss a thing.

Missing a class can be a snowball effect where you end up having to play catch up all semester. Plus, failing a class will cost you time AND money. Not only will you lose money on the class you didn’t pass, but you will then have to pay more just to retake it.

So, when you feel like laying in bed rather than getting up, think about your bank account and how much skipping this class will set you back. Weigh out the pros and cons of skipping a class, instead of making a costly impulsive choice.

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5.) Procrastinating

College student writing

Being a college student is not the same as being a high school student. Putting off your schoolwork until the last minute will be much more stressful.

You may get 3 pages of homework today and by tomorrow you could have 9 more. Do your assignments as soon as possible to avoid getting overwhelmed. If you wait until the end of the week, you’ll be buried under homework all weekend.

If you have an hour between classes, that’s a great time to accomplish some work. Instead of pulling out your phone and browsing social media – do your homework. Do it as soon as possible and you will have more free time later.

Be prepared, get organized, and get things done ahead of time. Have a hard time with time management? Check out this article to help you master your time management skills. As an added bonus, there is a free printable assignment tracker & weekly planner included.

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6.) Not Being Social

This brings me to socializing as a college student. I’m not saying that you always need to be focused on your homework. Yes, you do need to prioritize school to get your work done and succeed, but you also need to balance out your social needs.

Hiding in your dorm and not being involved with others or activities as a college student can be a real drag. As human beings, we need social outlets. This doesn’t mean you need to party and go crazy, but visiting with friends or catching a movie together can help you de-stress and unwind.

If you don’t know anyone at your college, you can join organizations & clubs to meet new people. Participate in sports, theater, newspaper, debate, etc.

This can help you stay in shape (ever heard of the Freshman 15? – we talk about that later) and activity helps fight off depression – which is likely to happen in a new school and environment.

Joining clubs can not only help you make friends, but also show you new ways to have fun. Friends can introduce you to the community and help you learn what resources are available.

Did you know that making connections will also help your career later? Being well connected as a college student can mean better opportunities after graduation. Sometimes “who you know” makes a huge difference in getting into closed doors.

Social connections can include just calling home to check-in, too. Attending college can have expectations of being independent, but that doesn’t mean you stop talking to everyone back home.

Stay connected to old friends and family from home. It’s not a weakness to let them know you miss them, and they would love to hear how you are doing.

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7.) Not Asking for Help

Students on Lawn

As a new college student, you may not realize how many resources are available to you. The school wants you to succeed and they provide tons of resources to help you! Even if you have always done well academically, college life can be very different.

There are lots of great free resources around campus. Make use of the library, gym, health center, tutors, counseling center, and more.

Take advantage of tutors! Getting tutored is not embarrassing, they are there to help after all. Get guidance from people who have a firm grasp on the subject, maybe all you need is to hear it explained in a different way.

It’s best to get help early, so you don’t fall behind in a class. It is always easier to ask for help than it is to be playing catch up for the rest of a semester.

If something doesn’t make sense, ask for clarification! College is expensive and asking questions can save you money. You are paying for it – it’s not cheap and it’s up to you to make the most out of it.

You should have a health center at the college. These are invaluable. If you have any health problems, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

They are used to dealing with a college student having various issues and these people know the best way to help. If they can’t help, they will point you in the right direction.

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8.) Throwing Papers Away

As a college student, you will get a lot of papers. You sign dorm contracts, and you receive papers in every class. It’s hard to know what to keep and what to trash. However, you don’t want to throw away certain papers, like class syllabuses.

Each class will provide you with a syllabus, which is an outline of what you can expect in the upcoming semester. Generally, it will include class location, required reading, and when assignments are due.

A syllabus can tell you nearly everything you need to know about a course. Import stuff, right? Avoid losing your syllabuses, and keep them in your specific class binders or folders.

In college, they don’t hold your hand and walk you through everything. That’s what documents are for – they help you remember or plan for things as a college student.
Don’t lose your dorm paperwork – you know the contract you signed? You will likely have a list of rules and other regulations. Hold onto these – you may need to refer back to them later in the semester.

Not sure what papers you need? Talk to a seasoned college student – they can likely help with the specifics for your college.

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9.) Freshman 15

students eating

I mentioned this earlier. The “freshman 15” are the 15 pounds you gain during your freshman year. In college, you may find yourself eating and drinking too much (stress, partying), as well as watching a lot of Netflix.

Exercise tends to take a back seat in your life, too. This combination of habits is where the weight starts to inch upon you.

You’ll likely not be thinking about exercising, but this is a must in college. Exercise not only keeps off the weight but helps with depression.

When you exercise you tend to eat better and be more conscious about your health-related choices. To avoid the freshman fifteen, avoid ordering take out too often.

Additionally, putting together a quick list of healthy foods will help tremendously when you go shopping. Here’s a list of healthy college foods to get you started, plus there is a free printable grocery list you can use, too.

Good habits will help you in your college years, your brain always runs better when it has the proper nutrients and plenty of activity. Plus, who wants to be known as the student who got scurvy??

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10.) Partying Too Often & Making Poor Decisions

I know you are on your own without restrictions and even though it’s fun to party, if you are a college student you’ll end up paying for it – one way or another. Like, the next morning when you have to be in class or need to be finishing an assignment.

Pulling all-nighters may seem like fun at first, but it’s hard on your body! The next day you will be sleepy, unproductive, and unmotivated. Adding caffeine to the mix may seem like a good idea, but is only a temporary fix.

Ever heard of sleep debt? Not catching enough Z’s can have a big impact on your health.

When partying, if you drink a lot you could wake up in a strange place. You don’t want the embarrassment of doing things you don’t remember. You are in a new environment and could put yourself in dangerous situations in places you’re not familiar with.

Have fun, but find a balance. If you want to party, take it slow. Check out and know your area and surroundings. And plan accordingly.

Have an exit strategy. If you’re going off-campus, make sure to take a cab there or have a designated driver.

A lot of DUI tickets are written to college students, don’t let it happen to you. Not only is that costly, but it’s also just plain dangerous.

Don’t go out drinking on a school night – yea, I know that sounds like something your parents would say, but there is wisdom in that. Pick nights you don’t have classes to attend the next day. Give yourself some time to recover from a possible hangover.

Be smart and make your good decisions while sober, so it’s harder for the inebriated you to make bad ones.

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11.) Taking on Too Much

girl standing in front of chalkboard for classes at college

I know you want to finish college as soon as possible, but sometimes taking 18 credit hours is just not doable. If you have four classes with labs, you could be over-scheduling yourself.

Especially if you’re juggling work and school. Over-scheduling yourself will cost you money.

How? Take too many classes and you could fail a class which is a huge waste of money. And, if you don’t fail your grades may suffer.

Joining clubs will also take up time. When putting together your schedule think about your class load, workload, and social needs.

You can spread out your classes over the week instead of putting them all on one long day. Work smarter, not harder.

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12.) Credit Card Mistakes

Now that you are on your own, getting a credit card can seem like a good idea. After all, you do want to start building your credit score. You may find lots of offers from credit card companies offering no interest, new user bonuses, and other benefits.

This is probably your first time handling money completely on your own. No one is there to oversee your spending habits, which makes it really easy to go into debt.

Debt is like a weight hanging over you – especially if you go into debt for things you have nothing to show for (i.e. eating out, drinking). You will always have to pay it back and credit cards don’t wait for a college student to finish school – you must make a payment monthly.

You only have to miss one payment to negatively affect your credit score. This may not seem important now, but a credit score sticks with you for life and if you ever want to take a loan to buy a car or house, you will want to keep a great credit score.

Need help with this? Learn how to set up a budget here, plus there is a free printable budget worksheet you can use. Or, head here to get the budget worksheet right away.

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13.) Buying All the Course Materials

female student carrying a stack of books

Before class starts you will get a list of course materials. Don’t buy them just yet! That is just a general list.

Each professor runs their class differently. I had a class with a list of books that the professor didn’t use – he told us this on the first day. If I had bought the books before class, I could have blown hundreds of dollars on things I didn’t need.

Like to be prepared? If waiting until the class begins is too long, then talk to a former student or the teacher to find out what you really need for the course.

When you are ready to get textbooks, don’t go to the college bookstore where they are way too expensive. Here’s a list of 6 places to get cheap textbooks online.

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14.) Bringing Too Much Stuff

It’s frustrating showing up to your new dorm, only to find out you can’t bring in half of what you brought with you. Dorms have rules on what you can and cannot use in them. They are also small!

Call ahead if you want to find out what is allowed and to get room measurements. Additionally, Bed, Bath & Beyond has a handy tool where you can search for your school to see what they provide, as well as what’s prohibited in the dorms.

Don’t overestimate how much will fit in your dorm. You don’t want to end up throwing away things you bring.

Avoid over-packing by checking out this college packing list, which includes everything you need + items you can skip bringing. There’s even a free printable version of the list.

Keep in mind these common mistakes and make your years as a college student better. And who knows, maybe you can help a friend by making these, too.


What’s one college mistake you wish you had known about?

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One Comment

  1. Amazing list. I don’t even know which one I agree with the most. Especially class materials, procrastination and the financial aid. We just wrote an article on fighting procrastination. It’s a sneaky beast that can have a significant negative effect on anyone’s life, student or not. Thanks for the list.