A group of student volunteers and staff at Central Michigan University hopes students will resolve to make 2019 their year to become financially fit.
CMU's Financial Wellness Collaborative, launched in 2017 in partnership between the Finance and Administrative Services and the Enrollment and Student Services divisions, helps students demystify money through workshops and resources to manage debt, build a budget, understand student loans and more.
"Students are not alone on this journey. The Financial Wellness Collaborative is here to assist them along the way." – Courtney Morris, graduate assistant coordinator, Financial Wellness Collaborative
Anna Sheufelt and Courtney Morris, graduate assistant coordinators for the collaborative, offered students these tips to get started on the path to financial fitness:
Think big and plan ahead
For most students, completing an undergraduate degree can take four to five years. Sheufelt and Morris said students should budget for the total cost of the degree, including living expenses, books, tuition and fees, so there are no surprises waiting after commencement.
"We want to see students walk across the stage at commencement feeling confident about what comes next," Sheufelt said.
Students also should explore starting salaries in their chosen field. Starting salaries for most entry-level positions are often much lower than those for jobs requiring three to five years of experience. Knowing their earning potential in advance can help students plan to pay off loans, Morris said.
Apply for scholarships and know the requirements to keep them
"Never stop applying for scholarships," Morris said.
Scholarships are not limited to incoming freshmen, and many academic departments, community foundations and businesses offer scholarships for students already enrolled in college. Additional scholarships can offset the amount students need to borrow for tuition and fees.
Students also need to keep track of the requirements for scholarships they already have accepted, including required minimum GPA, number of credits required per semester and whether the scholarship is renewable, Sheufelt said.
Although it doesn't happen often, some students lose scholarships by not enrolling in the right number of classes or not paying close attention to grades, she said.
Live like a student and take advantage of 'freebies'
It can be easy for students to overspend on clothing, food and entertainment. Trips to restaurants and shopping — online and at nearby stores — can add up quickly, and some students incur debt by using credit cards or student loan money to pay those expenses.
Instead, Morris and Sheufelt recommend students take advantage of the many free on-campus activities sponsored by the university and the CMU Program Board, such as game nights, athletic events, movie showings, art exhibits, performances, guest speakers and concerts. The city of Mount Pleasant also offers a number of free events and activities.
"On-campus events sometimes offer free food and even free campus items," noted Morris.
Students also can take advantage of campus resources to help offset expenses. The Career Development Center's First Impressions store, for example, offers students free professional clothing for job interviews and career fairs, and the new Student Food Pantry offers free food to students in need.
Take charge of your finances
All students, even those who receive help from home to pay for school, should take an active role in their finances, Sheufelt said.
Students should check the balances on their existing loans and credit cards, paying special attention to the loan type and the annual percentage rates, she suggested. They also should carefully read information before accepting new loans, scholarships or grants.
CMU students have free access to Cash Course, an online program with interactive models to help students build a budget, understand credit, learn about saving and more.
"How you navigate your finances as a student in college also affects how you behave when you leave. The financial piece follows you all the way through," Morris said.
Ask for help
Student groups, staff, faculty and the campus community can request a presentation from the Financial Wellness Collaborative's Money Mentors, trained student volunteers who can provide workshops on topics such as basic budgeting, financial wellness and future finances.
The CMU Student Service Court also can help students with questions about loans, grants, scholarships and other financial aid programs.
"When in doubt, ask questions. Students are not alone on this journey — the Financial Wellness Collaborative is here to assist them along the way," Morris said.