Helping High School Students Understand Personal Finance Before Graduation

As a high school counselor, part of your role is to help prepare your students and young people to complete high school and step into their next stage of life, whether that looks like beginning a career or advancing into college education. There are many areas of learning that high school curriculums cover, but many equally important topics that don’t receive adequate classroom time. Your students need to be prepared to be able to navigate these additional knowledge areas as they move into adulthood.

Personal finance topics often don’t receive adequate air time in high school classes (or within the home) but are vital subjects for students to understand at least at a basic level. With the numerous responsibilities on your plate, it’s important to have strategies and resources in place for yourself and your students that can help make this subject accessible.

Here are some of the must-know components of personal finance that will likely be important for your high schoolers, as well as ideas for making these topics approachable.

The Process of Paying for College: Understanding the Basics

For the students that are interested in pursuing a college education after graduation, college finance topics are very important to understand so that they can access the help they might need to make college fiscally possible.

Grants and Loans

Both grants and loans help countless high school students across the country attend college. In fact, for many students, college wouldn’t be possible without utilizing them. However, it is very important to understand the differences between grants and loans before taking either type of aid. Help your students understand the implications and stipulations of both grants and loans.

Showing them online loan repayment calculators can be a helpful way of helping them understand how loans and loan repayment works. Looking at online grant application forms can demonstrate what’s necessary to apply for grants.

Federal Aid Programs

FAFSA and Federal work study grants can be important resources for your students to consider as they think about financing their college education. Various printouts, posters, or visual aids exist and are easily accessible on the internet that can explain how Federal funding and college aid work as well as how they can be accessed.

Eligibility Standards for Various Financial Aid Options

These are important for your students to know now so that, when they apply for grants and loans, they have the best possible chance of securing what they need. As an example, if your students have the option to not be claimed as a dependent on their parents’ tax forms, they may receive more aid from programs like the FAFSA and similar. These tips are important to share with your students early so that they can prepare as necessary for when they begin applying for aid.

Other Financial Aid Options

With other financial aid options, can provide essential resources for your students and aren’t always readily obvious. Resources like financial aid primers and reputable financial aid websites are helpful links to put into an easy take-home handout or have available to send with your students when they are embarking on their financial aid searches.

Preparing your students with basic information in these categories will help them approach college much more informed about what kinds of financial concerns they’ll need to navigate in order to confidently access college.

Other Important Personal Finance Topics

Though college finances may be a topic of interest for many of your students, there are plenty of other important areas of finance that are important to share with them as well.


Though it can be a simple tool, applying budgeting concepts to one’s individual finances can be a hugely powerful protection against avoiding financial pitfalls down the road. Helping your students work through a sample budget as an activity sheet during your sessions can introduce them to the practice of budgeting and can help them make much better decisions with their finances.

Personal Credit and Credit Cards

This topic is very important for your high schoolers to understand as they leave secondary education. Most students either already have some form of debit or credit card, or plan to use credit cards as soon as they are eligible and approved. Conversely, students who may not want credit cards could experience the difficulty of getting loans or making larger purchases later in life if they haven’t built sufficient credit.

These are important realities to understand before students unwittingly get themselves into a load of trouble by incurring significant credit card debt or being unable to purchase things like vehicles or their first house.

Investment Options

Such a huge beneficial learning area that can help students make savvy decisions with expendable income. For individuals who begin investing even small amounts of money during their college years, the returns they can expect can rival or exceed those secured by people who invest larger amounts of money later in life. For many students, this can be a strategic financial move.

Real Estate and Mortgages

This is a very helpful and important topic for any student who has an interest in purchasing a home or investing in real estate. Purchasing property can be a significant investment that offers enormous security, return on investment, stability, and more. This is a vital area to expose your students to so that they are aware of the benefits real estate or purchasing a home can create for them throughout the course of their lifetime.

Retirement Planning

This is a hugely important topic of conversation to have with your students. Even when your students think retirement seems eons away, it’s important for them to understand how decisions they make now — from determining 401K contributions in their first professional job to organizing their assets as they begin to amass them — could drastically affect their financial security when they approach retirement age or make decisions post-employment. Even a few introductory concepts and tips can help prepare them for when they need to make decisions that will have a large impact down the line.