Updated on 01.17.08

Graduating In May? Seven Money Things To Do During Your Last Semester

Trent Hamm

Recently, I’ve received a small deluge of emails from upcoming college (and high school) graduates that all have the same theme: The real world is coming! Help! For one thing, if they’re bothering to read a site like The Simple Dollar, they’re already way ahead of the game, but there are still a few things that any college student should take care of before stepping out of school and into the real world. Here’s a list of seven money tasks you should try to take care of during your final semester in school.

Ensure that you have some way of spending your time in a productive fashion after you graduate. This can be self-employment or even working a job that’s not what you desire. You need to settle into a life of being productive, no matter what you’re doing with your time. Why? The world will not hand you money. Don’t sit around wasting time hoping that that dream job will fall on your lap – get started doing something, preferably something that points in the general direction of your dream job.

Don’t worry about pay. Seriously. Don’t. Your first job out of school should be one that maximizes your resume building, not one that maximizes cash in the wallet. If you happen to get one that does both, awesome, but do not put quick money ahead of long-term building at this point in your life.

Do whatever you can to minimize the interest rate on any outstanding debt. If you have student loans, stop by your loan office and ask what you can do to minimize the interest rate via consolidation. If you have credit card debt, start paying it down as soon as possible. Debt is going to do nothing but hold you down for the next few years. If you’re thinking of using your credit card for anything at all, ask yourself if you’ll view this as a worthwhile purchase in three years. If the answer is no, what are you doing?

Get a good checking account. Call some banks and try to find a checking account that minimizes fees. I would take a serious look at Electric Orange from ING Direct, which earns a 4% return on your checking account balance and has basically no fees at all (but you don’t get printed checks except by individual request).

Get your money into that account. By the end of the semester, you should have your working money consolidated in that selected checking account so that you aren’t continually dealing with the drain of fees and maybe have some interest working in your favor. You shouldn’t have many bills, so switching shouldn’t be too hard – here’s a guide on how to switch accounts.

Get a high-interest savings account. I recommend either ING Direct (4.50% APY, it’s the bank I use, great customer service) or HSBC Direct (5.05% APY) – rates as of this writing.

Start an automatic withdrawal plan from your checking to this savings account. Why? This will be your emergency fund to bail yourself out when things go awry (and at some point, they will – trust me). It doesn’t have to be much, it just has to be regular, and you have to forget that the emergency account exists until you need to tap it.

If you do these seven things, you’ll be way ahead of the game on your graduation day.

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  1. Nishant says:

    From personal experience: Realize that the salary number in your head is the gross amount. Your actual paycheck will be a lot smaller. Don’t overspend your check before you get it.

  2. TMac says:

    Don’t worry about pay? I don’t think I agree with this. Yes you should get a job and it should be doing something that you like or at least can mentally tolerate for a couple years, but that first salary number will be the basis of all future salary raises and bonuses. Also if you go to get another job, that will be the starting point for salary negotiations. Starting salary is more important than you might think.

  3. Anne says:

    Another great online that pays you interest (and with a 6% introductory rate right now), has no fees for regular use, and WILL give you printed checks is EverBank. They will even reimburse you for ATM charges for withdrawing cash, and send postage-paid envelopes for doing so, and for depositing money. I have my checking account with them and am very pleased so far.

  4. Mary says:

    Advice for new grads: Don’t be like me.

    I was offered a job fresh out of college in San Diego in a highly competitive industry. An awesome opportunity, yes?

    The mistake that I made was not fighting harder to become a full-time employee. As an “independent contractor,” I was responsible for both ends of Social Security, as well as all the other taxes that employers automatically take care of for you.

    Two years later, I’m back in (graduate) school, have no income, and owe $5K in taxes for last year.

    Don’t be like me.

  5. jake says:


    I think trent meant that you should not be picky about salary. I had a room mate that when he graduated saw friends around him get salaries of about $50K+ and he refuse to accept anything less. He had turned down offers of $40-$45K just because he thought he was worth more.

    After 4 months of not being able to find a job that would pay 50K+ he decided that he just wanted a job. The thing was those 40k-45K offers were long gone, he suddenly couldnt get offers of 35K+

    Guess how much he makes now? $28K a year.

    If you talk to new graduates that complain about how they cant find a job and you ask them about the jobs they apply for. You’ll learn that most of the time they are turning down good salaries because they want so much to make the big salaries and believe they are worth more than they are.

  6. 3bean says:

    In regards to the salary issue, I’d recommend reading a book on salary negotiation and talking with others in the field to obtain a good understanding of what an entry level salary should be. I agree with Jake that can’t be picky, but your starting salary can have significant impact on your future. If you love your job but start off too low and only get COL raises, you’ll end up resentful and possibly leaving a job you otherwise like. I’ve seen too many new grads (even grads with advanced degrees who but who have gone straight through school) accept offers that are way too low because compared to their current salary ($0 – peanuts) anything looks good.

  7. Bill says:

    Also if that first job has a company matching 401k, contribute up to the amount that will be matched. If they don’t match, I’d still try to put in 5% if you can make it work.

  8. Kimberly says:

    Per the resume building job…

    My two cents is to just go out and get that first post-grad job out of the way; suck it up and deal with being a gopher for 12-18 months and the rest of your career will be that much easier.

  9. 3bean says:

    Why should you have to suck it up just because it’s your first job?

    Before I get lambasted, I realize that in some sectors, the gopher job is just a rite of passage because you don’t have the right skills immediately after college. Ok- then suck it up if that’s the norm in your field.

    Also, many undergrads slack off and leave college without a lot of meaningful skills. OK- maybe they need to suck it up and just feel lucky to have a job.

    However, if you have unique or desirable skills, you should be compensated fairly for the service you provide. One of the things I LOVED about my first job was that I was judged (and rewarded) by the quality of my work, not by my age. Had I not decided to pursue a PhD, I would have happily continued to work there.

  10. NewGirl says:

    As a relatively recent college grad, I can also say that another big addition to this list is:

    If you don’t have a credit card, get one now.

    Having a credit card, even if you didn’t need one in college, is a really useful thing when you’re out of school, and is an easy way to build your credit score if used appropriately.

    Unfortunately, having no credit history when I graduated made it very difficult to get a credit card (5 tries, and that was with no credit history and a paying grad student gig where I made a reasonable salary and could also claim to be a full time student.) Oh how I wished that I had taken one of the offers that were routinely sent to me while I was in college.

  11. You’re right on the money with the banking tips. I wrote about the same sequence of events plus a few more in a series I did last week. Feel free to refer to them in your posts.

    Checking account, savings account and automatic debit and deposit from one to the other is the only smart way to start.

  12. Brian says:

    One other thing to keep in mind: I was fortunate enough to have my college education (and other things during this period of my life) paid for by my family. Upcoming/recent grads that are in a similar situation that I was should generate a plan for paying for things like housing (if you wish to or geographically have to move out,) car payments (and the associated costs like insurance and maintenance,) medical/dental benefits (even with a great benefits package, these things still will take some money out of your pocket,) and other miscellaneous “life” expenses. It wasn’t until I was on my own financially that I realized how coddled I was for the first 22 years of my life.

  13. Angela says:

    If you don’t have a job lined up after graduation, make full use of your health insurance. Most students are insured under their school or parents’ plans, so start getting your vaccinations and checkups and prescriptions up to date and save hundreds, if not thousands, on doctors and prescription fees.

  14. Kristi says:

    How difficult is it to withdraw money from an online account? Does it take a couple of days?

  15. Lisa says:

    My advice BEFORE leaving college would be to make sure you have taken advantage of the latest free or greatly reduced software offered through your school’s licensing with Microsoft, Adobe, etc. Granted, it needs to be something you really need, but most recent grads will consider a computer and software pretty darn important.

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