Tips For Handling Your Finances In College

For a PDF version of this Fact Sheet, click here.

  1. Talk to your school’s financial aid officer as soon as you are accepted in the school.  The financial aid office will guide you and help you plan for your school expenses.  They will recommend what loans and other financial aid is available to you depending on your financial situation.
  2. Do not take out loans unless you truly need them.  The interest you have to pay on them will cost you a lot of extra money in the long term, and failing to pay them back will seriously hurt your credit score.  Instead of applying for loans only, you should always try to apply for scholarships.  
  3. Many schools have their own endowments or foundations that provide need-based scholarships to their students.  You can also ask your financial aid office or admissions office if the department that you have been accepted to has their own scholarship program or if they know of any non-profit organization in the area that provides scholarships.  At the same time you need to be wary of scholarship scams outside the university.  Remember that you should never have to pay a fee to apply for a scholarship.
  4. Keep track of all your financial aid, both for scholarships and loans.  Remember that you need to reapply yearly for your federal student loans by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).   For more information, see WISER’s fact sheet on student loans. 
  5. Keep track of the deadlines on your bills so you don’t get behind.  You should never fall behind on your payments, whether it is for housing, utilities, car, credit cards, and even previous loans as this can affect your credit score and your future applications for loans.
  6. Be smart about all your expenses, from everyday purchases (like that daily Starbucks latte) to large ones.  All you need to do to be successful in this realm is to do your research and stay organized.  Make sure you know what you are paying for housing, and that all the agreements you make with landlords and roommates are documented.   Try to buy groceries and cook instead of eating out, and utilize your student meal plans if you have them. Make sure to carefully distinguish your needs from your wants.  Ask yourself what you can give up or go without.  Remember that as a student, you can take advantage of student discounts using your student ID card.
  7. Books can be really expensive, but there are a lot of options to save money.  Check if your school library has the books you need, if you can rent or borrow books, or if you can buy them used.  Again, if you plan ahead, you can get much better deals.  Most schools post lists of required books for classes relatively early in the registration process.  Check out online sites that offer discounted textbooks to compare prices.
  8. When it comes to jobs, get creative.  Do you have a hobby that someone would pay you to do?  Use as many of your school’s resources as possible, such as the career center or the school’s student job placement office.  If you find an on-campus job, this can save you a lot of money and time on transportation. 

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