College is more than just a time of academic growth—it’s a crucial period for developing life skills, and perhaps one of the most significant is financial literacy. As someone who attended one of the most expensive colleges in the U.S., the University of Southern California (USC), I understand the financial challenges that come with pursuing a higher education degree. I was a part of an exclusive 20-person program called the Iovine Young Academy that allowed me to pursue a degree encompassing art, technology, and the business of innovation—three distinct areas I was passionate about and eager to explore in my college journey.
As I embarked on my time at USC, not only did I have to come to terms with the immediate expenses of college, but I recognized the necessity of a strategic plan to navigate the next four years with a focus on my financial future. Credit plays a major role in your financial well-being, and it’s never too early to start building credit. So, as someone who’s been there, here’s my personal guide to building credit during college and why it’s so important for long-term financial success.
The Role of Credit in College
Establishing a positive credit history during your college years can significantly impact your financial standing post-graduation. A good credit score helps you qualify for student loans, car loans, apartments and credit cards, and can open doors to favorable interest rates. It can even influence potential employment opportunities.
I consider myself fortunate to have parents who were deeply invested in my financial future. They played a critical role in educating me about credit and providing guidance in understanding its nuances and implications. Their insights became a cornerstone of my financial education, empowering me to make informed decisions about my credit journey.
But reflecting on this journey, I realized there were certain aspects I didn’t necessarily learn that I wish I had known earlier. As I transitioned into the real world, I discovered the significance of not just having a credit score but actively managing it. The impact of timely payments and responsible credit card use are lessons I now advocate for. As a new adult, being proactive in your financial education will help you navigate the complexities of credit and college with confidence.
Before you head off to college, familiarize yourself with the basics – what’s a credit score, how are they calculated, and the factors that influence them. Here are a few crucial lessons to help get you started down the right path.
1. Choose the Right Student Card
My journey to managing my credit started with a conscious decision to apply for a student card. Secured credit cards are credit-building cards that require a refundable cash deposit as security. This deposit then turns into your spending limit, and you get the benefit of using this spending limit to make purchases and pay bills. While the Ambition Mastercard® by College Ave, designed specifically for college students, wasn’t around when I was in college, this is a fantastic option for those new to the world of credit. What’s great about the Ambition Card is that it connects to your existing checking account to keep things simple. Simply transfer money from your checking account to set your Ambition Card spending limit, and start making purchases. There’s no way to overspend because you can only use what’s on your card.
The Ambition Card also offers great features for students, like cashback rewards on every purchase,2 no interest, no late fees3 and fraud protection to help you navigate the complexities of credit responsibly. When you use this card for everyday purchases and pay on time, it’s reported back to the credit bureaus, helping you responsibly and safely build a credit history.1
2. Use Credit Responsibly
While having a student card opens the door to a bright financial future, using it responsibly is key. Make small purchases that you can easily pay off, like textbooks, takeout, groceries and gas, and always pay your bills on time. This responsible use contributes positively to your credit history.1
It’s also important to create a monthly budget that outlines your income, expenses, and monthly payments. A proactive approach will not only help you manage your finances but also help you build strong budgeting habits in the long run.
3. Monitor Your Credit Score Regularly
Managing credit is an ongoing process, and staying informed about your credit health is a proactive step towards financial success. Every year, you’re eligible for a free credit report from all three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and Transunion. It’s important to check your report annually and fix any errors you find.
Plus, financial companies like College Ave offer credit-building tips and tools to help you manage your credit and money decisions without the stress. Check out the College Ave Blog to access these free resources.
4. Prioritize Academic Success
During my second and third years of college, I strategically sought out internships to gain industry-specific experience. In my sophomore year, I took on an opportunity with a rotational program at a dynamic tech startup. In my junior year, I undertook a challenging software engineering internship at LinkedIn.
These internships were not merely about financial gains, but were carefully selected to align with my career goals. They contributed to my resume and provided a tangible understanding of the real-world application of my studies. The competitive pay offered by these internships made it possible to cover my college expenses and maintain a healthy budget throughout the school year. Plus, working and networking in these environments provided the foundations for graduating with a six-figure salary as a product manager at Atlassian, ultimately setting me up for financial success in the long-run.
Advantages of The Ambition Card
With its focus on financial well-being for the future, the Ambition Card by College Ave offers a better experience for students looking to easily venture into the world of credit. It’s not just a student card—it’s your ally for unlocking financial success during your college years and beyond.
Today, as a full-time founder building my own company, I draw on the lessons learned during my college journey. The financial strategies, including responsible credit management, have been instrumental in my professional growth. It’s a testament to the transformative power of financial literacy and strategic credit-building, and I hope that my lessons will provide you with the tools to embark on your own journey toward a financially empowered future.