Paying for College / Debt Relief, Life & Career

A Freshman’s Guide to Managing Money in College

For college freshmen, the move from a home bedroom to a college dormroom is often a move from “That expense is covered by someone else” to “How am I going to pay for that?”

For many, it’s the first time shopping temptations, scholarships, seasonal jobs, and summer trips all factor into their thinking about money.

If that’s you, spending time before move-in day covering the bases of smart money management is critical to your financial success as a college freshman. Plus, establishing good money habits now has a HUGE long-term payoff, as it’s often formative to your lifelong financial journey.

If you’re ready to add personal finance to your college prep list, here are a few keys to make freshman year a great launch point to a secure financial future.

Invest Your Summer in Scholarships and Financial Aid

Securing scholarships and financial aid early helps you establish a clear view of how much additional money you’ll really need from month to month. So, start the process early:

  • Begin your scholarship search process as early as possible. Make a sizeable list of scholarships you qualify for and invest time in completing applications. (Use our Scholarship Search Tool to help you track down more possible scholarship dollars.)
  • Submit your FAFSA as soon as you can to see how much you qualify for in federal student loans. (If you’re just starting your senior year of high school, October 1 is your first chance to file.) Remember, student loans (federal or private) should only be used to cover necessary expenses, so don’t borrow more than you need.
  • Once accepted to a school, inquire about work-study opportunities and on-campus jobs.

Make a Realistic List of Expenses (Before Fall)

Every student faces a different situation when it comes to paying for college expenses. Creating a bulleted list of expenses – and a realistic projection of how much you’ll need for each category. Then, track spending in each category and adjust your budget as you go.

Categories to focus on (before you get to campus) include:

  • Tuition and Fees
  • Housing
  • Textbooks
  • Meals
  • Personal Items (Clothes and Supplies)
  • Transportation / Parking
  • Entertainment

Track Down Manageable Income Sources

Class and studying will require a lot of your time, energy, and focus. But a few flexible, sustainable sources of income can go a long way – and those opportunities are more abundant than ever. If you can’t find a part-time job on campus, consider flexible off-campus jobs, part-time “remote” (online) jobs, or gig economy jobs like delivering food or walking dogs.

Focus on Establishing Smart Money Habits in the Fall

Too many students develop costly money habits during their first semester of college, so spend the first fall on campus laser-focused on developing smart habits. A few things that can pay off in a major way over time include:

  • Sticking to your budget.
  • Saving a little money every month.
  • Eliminating unnecessary debt.
  • Avoiding credit cards at all cost.

For a new generation of earners, borrowers, and spenders, the first year of college will set the pace for financial success. Spend your time focusing on being smart with money today, and profit in a big way for decades to come.

Nelnet Bank does not provide legal, investment, tax, or financial advice. This page and the information contained herein is for informational purposes only. This content is not meant to address the circumstances of any particular individual. Nothing contained in this article constitutes a recommendation or endorsement by Nelnet Bank. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consult with a qualified professional.

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