The Conversation All Rising College Freshwomen Need To Have
If you’re anything like me, words like “fiscal” and “economic” and “marketplace” have always been like a Muggle version of the Petrificus Totalus curse. Despite my disdain for the stereotype of women as financially illiterate, I couldn’t stop my eyes from glazing over whenever nitty-gritty conversations related to finance or money came up.
Then I started the college process and woke up to the truly horrific reality of soaring college tuition, seemingly inevitable debt and a crappy economy: the unholy financial trinity of attending college in this day and age.
It's worth remembering that finance is a historically male-dominated industry, topic of conversation and concern: Until relatively recently, women had no access to their own money and remained completely financially dependent on men. Women’s financial autonomy is truly novel in our historically male-dominated society.
But despite having come so far from having the financial autonomy of a toaster, many (if not most) young women are still largely uneducated about finance — or at least are not encouraged to learn about it the way our male counterparts are. Studies show that while women have more financial autonomy than ever before — a 2013 Pew study found, for example, that women are now the leading or only breadwinners in 40% of American households — they still feel less confident than men in understanding financial products, their ability to make financial choices, and their understanding of their own economic standing.
And yet countless women are now faced with a financial decision that will shape the rest of their lives at just roughly 18 years old: They must figure out how they’re going to pay for college. Lacking financial literacy in this day and age, therefore, is just not acceptable for women. Even beyond feminist ideals, student loans and debt necessitate that young women own being strong, independent, savvy and confident in themselves.
But knowledge is power. Here’s what young women need to know about student loans and debt in order to best position themselves for a healthy financial future.
1. Thoroughly research all of your options.
Start early with your scholarship search and take your time filing for financial aid. Those forms can be kind of tricky and convoluted but don’t let a clerical error keep you from cash.
2. Know what you're signing.
One of the biggest mistakes most students make is signing the first loan presented to them without knowing exactly what they’re agreeing to. The truth is that misinformed borrowers have ended up unemployable, owing considerably more than the cost of their college tuition, and/or defaulting (not being able to make loan payments) and lead lives generally dictated by crippling debt. Their lives are shaped by a single decision they literally made before their frontal lobe was fully developed.
Make sure you read everything before you sign, talk to multiple people about which option makes the most sense for your financial situation and use tools like the college cost calculator to get a thorough understanding of what kind of money you’re talking about.
3. Make smart daily choices while at college.
Here’s the thing about credit cards: They are not magic. I wish I did not feel the need to clarify that, but college students continuously get into credit card debt because they’re not vigilant about curbing spending and paying off their balances. It doesn’t help that banks target students for this very reason with student credit cards, which offer low credit limits, low income requirements, and high interest rates, which equate to disaster.
Also, make yourself a budget. At the risk of sounding like the Queen of the Funsuckers, do not leave anything to chance or spontaneity (unless you set aside some cash every month for the purpose of fun—yes, I’m advocating for planned spontaneity). FOMO (“Fear Of Missing Out”) is a very real and serious disease running rampant among millennials and can be a serious financial drain.
Talking about finances and debt may be undeniably boring and depressing — but it’s a conversation we need to be having. After all, most young women go to college to pursue their dreams and envision a bright future for themselves. Financial literacy and stability are at the core of this. And, at the risk of sounding a little hyperbolic, especially as women, we owe it to our mothers and grandmothers—who fought so hard for us to even have the opportunity to go to college, to pursue what makes us happy and secure our future autonomy—to take this opportunity seriously and to make smart choices.
For more advice, check out College 101: A Girl's Guide to Freshman Year.
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