In college, students’ academic achievements, such as making the dean’s list, are often top of mind. However, finances can also play a role in academic outcomes. According to a study titled “The Academic Impact of Financial Stress on College Students” from the Journal of College Student Retention, financial stressors may result in having poor academic performance or dropping out. For this reason, properly managing your finances can be just as important as studying. As you work to achieve good grades, take inspiration from other students who are eager to share their financial achievements in college.
1. Build a credit score to be proud of
As a student, you’re likely concerned about how your scores on tests affect your GPA. However, your grade point average isn’t the only score you need to be worried about in college. As you get older, your credit score becomes more important. If you choose to start building your credit freshman year by applying for a credit card with your Social Security number, you’ll have four years of positive credit history that you can be proud of at graduation. Justin from the University of California, Santa Barbara shares how he turned his late start to the world of credit into his greatest financial achievement:
“As someone who grew up in Hong Kong, the credit scoring system in the United States was never on my radar until 2019. It was when I determinedly and ambitiously moved to America to seek more appealing educational opportunities and pursue my desired career. After learning that having an excellent credit score is extremely important as it determines whether I could get a car loan, mortgage, or even approval for a credit card with low-interest rates, I decided to establish my credit history as soon as possible and started building up my credit score. In less than two years, I successfully increased my FICO score to 790, signifying my most significant financial achievement as a college student.”
University of California, Santa Barbara
2. Purchase your own vehicle
Buying a car is often one of the largest purchases that you will make as a young adult. While your car will come with freedom and the convenience to use it whenever you please, it also comes with a lot of responsibility. It’s not always easy to properly save and budget for a car, as well as gas and maintenance expenses. However, it will be well worth the effort in the end. Mackenzie, a student at Andrews University, shares how buying her own vehicle made it worth so much more to her:
“My most significant financial achievement so far is purchasing my first car with cash…Because of working so hard for that cash, it made my car seem way more valuable to me. Handing my parents an envelope of cash was emotional for me, because it was a physical thing that I had worked hard for, and I physically was giving it to them. By not just giving me a vehicle, my parents gave me an appreciation for hard work. They also helped me realize the value of every dollar that I spent. Instead of thinking of the price tag as a dollar amount, I changed my mindset to thinking about how much time it was equal to. Half of my car’s value is equal to over one hundred hours of work. This mindset shift helped me to become more wise when spending money on other items. This shirt is two hours of work, do I need it? As I adopted this shift, I became more wise with saving. When I drive my car, I’m much more careful with it, knowing how many hours of work it cost me.”
3. Self-fund your college education
Higher education comes with a high price tag. Along with tuition, the cost of attending college consists of housing, meal plans, fees, parking, and books. While paying for your college education by yourself is difficult, it’s not impossible. Luckily, working during school or summer, applying for many scholarships, and reducing your non-essential purchases can help limit your amount of student loan debt. The University of Utah student, Andrew, shares how his lofty goal of paying for his own tuition became an admirable reality:
“Though my family is more than willing to support me financially, it has always been my goal to take responsibility for my finances while pursuing a degree. When I decided to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering, this became much more difficult. I knew that I would have to go to a good university and take lots of credit hours, both of which would be costly. I would also have a large course load, which would make it difficult to hold a job while going to classes…Pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering has been an exciting and rewarding experience, all the more so because I have been the one to finance it. Throughout my college career I have learned many valuable lessons, but one of the most valuable is that I can fund my dreams. Financial problems shouldn’t stop you from pursuing a goal. With research, hard work, and creativity, anyone can fund their dream.”
University of Utah
4. Pay off your credit card debt
When you get your first credit card, you should aim to avoid credit card debt. However, an accident, financial emergency, or poor spending decisions can cause you to accumulate a high balance on your card. Each month that you carry a balance, you will be charged interest. While it’s not always possible to pay your statement in full, it’s important to pay more than the minimum amount due to eliminate credit card debt quickly. University of California, Riverside student, Natalie, shares her financial achievement of becoming credit card debt-free:
“My most significant financial achievement so far in life was paying off my credit card debt. I had been using my credit card for everyday purchases and had not been paying the full balance each month, causing the debt to accumulate. This debt was causing me stress and limiting my ability to save money for future goals…It took about a year of hard work and dedication, but I was finally able to pay off my credit card debt. It was a proud moment for me, and I felt a sense of freedom knowing that I no longer had this debt hanging over my head. Paying off my credit card debt taught me the importance of being responsible with my money. I learned that making a budget, tracking my spending, and living within my means are all essential habits for achieving financial stability. These habits will serve me well in the future as I continue to work towards my financial goals.”
University of California, Riverside
5. Start making your own income
As a full-time student, it can seem that there is no time for a job in college. However, if you desire to work, you just need to find an employer that is flexible and will work around your student schedule. Having your own income can allow you to pay your bills, give you peace of mind, and help you save money for the future. Andrew, a Brigham Young University student, shares why he considers securing a summer job to be his best financial accomplishment:
“When I moved to Gig Harbor, Washington, in the early months of the new year, I was eager to find the right job to get me through the summer. Growing up I had spent a lot of time around cars – my father and uncles were all mechanics. So when I saw an opportunity to become a trailer mechanic, I was determined to jump on it. I was already excited and knew I was making a great financial accomplishment…Even though money wasn't the most important factor of my summer job, I enjoyed the financial success that followed. I ended the summer making around $7,000 – which I was thrilled with. It was a great accomplishment that allowed me to save up money for the future. I now have money saved up, providing me with a great sense of security and as well as a bit of extra pocket money for whatever activities come my way. I am so thankful for this incredible summer opportunity and I am excited to keep learning and furthering my knowledge in the field.”
Brigham Young University
6. Grow your business
From tutoring to dog walking to mowing lawns, having a side hustle to earn extra money is common for college students. Anyone can have a side hustle, but not everyone has the means to take their hobby to the next level. Growing your hobby into a business can require more resources or equipment, which can often be expensive. These expenses require careful planning and saving, especially as a student. A University of Utah student shares how her greatest financial achievement brought her hobby to the next level:
“I’ve taken my love for photography and started a business. I learned pretty early on that when running a business, you need nice, and most of the time expensive, equipment…It was hard to find time for my schoolwork while also working 30 hours a week, but after months of hard work, I had finally saved up 1,700 dollars for my camera fund. Fast forward a few weeks to when my camera finally came in the mail. I could not help but feel a sense of awe as I took it out of the box. All of my hard work had paid off. I was holding one of the most expensive objects I have ever owned, and I paid for it all by myself. With this camera, I was able to grow my photography business. As I kept working to build my reputation, my passion for photography grew from a hobby to a profitable business. My camera was and still is my biggest financial accomplishment.”
University of Utah
7. Quit a bad spending habit
Attending college comes with lots of expenses. Some of these expenses are essential, like tuition, textbooks, housing, and personal hygiene items. Other purchases, like subscribing to all the available streaming services, eating out with friends often, or always purchasing the latest fashion trends, can take a toll on your finances. Reducing your impulse buys and planning ahead could help you save money in college. Connor, a student from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, shares how quitting his bad spending habit had an improvement on his health:
“As a student, one of my most significant financial achievements was kicking the habit of spending money on eating out. Growing up, my mom taught me the basics of cooking, but I have always been a picky eater and found it hard to branch out and try new things. So I often enjoyed eating out because of the simple and fast burgers or chicken. However, as I got older and started to manage my own finances, I realized that eating out all the time was not only expensive, but also unhealthy…Overall, my experience of learning how to cook and kicking the habit of spending money on eating out has been a valuable financial achievement. Not only have I saved money, but I have also improved my health and expanded the foods I like. And while I may still be a picky eater, I am now more willing to step out of my comfort zone and try new things.”
Minneapolis College of Art and Design
8. Be generous to others
Many students receive help paying for college, whether it is from their parents, a scholarship, or financial aid. Even with these monetary aides, not everyone has enough financial resources to afford college, or even basic necessities. That’s why whenever you’re in a position to give back, donating your time or money to do so is important. A student from Brigham Young University-Hawaii shares how giving to charity during college is her proudest financial achievement:
“I was raised with parents who instilled in me the importance of giving, no matter our current station in life (our family has had its share of hard times and my parents were raised in poverty, thus the efforts of others were the means by which we survived in some periods of my life). As such, it had been customary in years past to donate a tenth of any money I earned to charity. In the past, however, I was not struggling to keep up with college expenses and being exhausted of all my energy with every minute spent at work. I felt as though I had especially earned every cent of my paycheck; to see a tenth of it leave my account immediately was nearly heartbreaking. Despite these struggles, I donated money every two weeks to my church's charity fund, and I am proud to say that I was able to give over $600 to those in need. Though the sum itself does not seem like a huge amount, it brings me happiness to think that someone less fortunate than I am can have a meal or clothing that they may not have been able to receive on their own.”
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
These eight accomplishments show that students can achieve any financial goal they put their mind to in college. Your financial achievement could be as simple as taking a personal finance course to improve your financial literacy or as extensive as saving up to buy a car in cash. No matter the size of your financial achievement, your money wins are worth celebrating.
While managing your money in college can be stressful, the long-term effects of financial accomplishments can steer you on the right path during your financial journey. As a student, you probably won’t be able to avoid money stress completely, but setting and achieving financial goals can kick-start good money habits that will carry into your life well after receiving your diploma.
🚣Want more guidance from students in the same boat? Check out Personal Finance Advice from 10 Real Students.
💪If you've got the financial part down, how about service? Here are 25 Ways to Volunteer in Your Community.