During Financial Literacy Month in the U.S. in April, Knowledge@Wharton High School highlighted a few global personal-finance champions, including Britain’s Jordan Cox and Romania’s Mara Steiu. As the month drew to a close, another important date for teens loomed large – May 1, college decision day. Students faced with multiple acceptances must typically decide (under regular admission guidelines) where they want to pursue their higher education on or by May 1.
Around that time, we heard from Emily K., a senior at Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches, Florida. While Emily, who was accepted by more than 20 schools, made that all-important decision in plenty of time, she did so with the heart and mind of a true financial-literacy champion. Effective money management often involves sacrifice: passing up that new pair of jeans to put money in your savings account; living below your means to have a secure financial future; working two jobs rather than hanging out with friends in order to pay off debt.
KWHS spoke with Emily to find out more about her recent life lesson in financial responsibility and tradeoffs – and why she wouldn’t change a thing.
Knowledge@Wharton High School: Have you always been financially responsible?
Emily K.: Many teenagers and young adults do not understand the importance of financial responsibility until it is too late. Fortunately, I have been given the opportunity to take a personal finance course as a high school senior. I had a basic understanding of smart spending and saving, but this course has better prepared me to have a financially sound future.
KWHS: How do you feel better prepared financially for your future?
Emily: This class overlapped with the period in which I had to make a decision on which college I would attend in the fall. I was granted acceptance to several notable universities that all met and exceeded my idea of the perfect school. I absolutely love New England, and I wanted to go to school there. My top choices were St. John’s University, Xavier University, Fordham University, University of New Haven, and University of Hartford. I wanted so badly to move up North to start my college education, but even with the scholarships I was granted, I would be burdened with nearly $100,000 in debt upon graduation. Without the deeper understanding of financial responsibility that I have obtained as a result of my personal finance class, I could have made a decision that would greatly impact my future without the blink of an eye.
KWHS: So, what did you decide?
Emily: I was also accepted to a small private school near Tampa with nearly a full ride. After much thought, I decided to take advantage of a nearly free education. I have committed to Saint Leo University in San Antonio, Florida. Saint Leo is a great school, but it is not in the location I really wanted and it is about the same size as my high school. I’m keeping a positive outlook because I am very grateful with the opportunities they have presented to me. I was awarded a total of more than $1.7 million in scholarships from all of the schools, but Saint Leo was the school that was the most affordable. It was not my top choice, but I knew that I would benefit from a debt-free future.
KWHS: Why is it so important for you to be debt-free?
Emily: Coming out of college with a quarter of a million dollars in debt is not something that anybody really wants. Debt is nothing but a burden. When I graduate college, I won’t be weighed down with student loans to pay back. I will be able to save a couple extra dollars a month instead of having to put that towards my student loans. It honestly feels like a weight was lifted from my shoulders before the weight was ever placed.
KWHS: What do you plan to study in college?
Emily: This semester was the first time that I ever took a business or economics class. I am currently taking economics with financial literacy and business and personal finance. Prior to these two classes, I was never interested in business. Now, I am considering studying business. Another area that interests me is forensic science and criminology. I have taken more than 30 college credits in my high school’s dual-enrollment program, so I will have the freedom to feel around by taking different classes and still be able to graduate on time.
Emily’s choice to attend Saint Leo required her to make a big sacrifice. Despite her acceptance to 19 other schools, many in her dream location of New England, she settled for something less than she had hoped. Money was the motivating factor. Do you agree with Emily’s decision? Why or why not? Debate the pros and cons of her decision with a group, keeping in mind the broader context of financial responsibility. How might this decision help her in the long run? How might it hurt her, if at all?
What exactly is debt? Research the related KWHS articles and links for a deeper understanding of debt and how it impacts your finances.
Emily mentions taking part in her school’s dual-enrollment program. What is this and how is it useful? Research the KWHS article on dual enrollment in the related articles tab to find out more about this type of program and how it can save you money on hour higher education.