First Person is where Chalkbeat presents the personal essays of educators, students, parents, and others who think and write about public education.
When I got my first paycheck for working on a political campaign and almost a third was taken out for taxes, I was shocked because I was only making minimum wage. I shrugged it off, assuming this is why adults always complain about taxes.
When I told this as a coming-of-age story to family friends, someone explained to me that I could probably get some of that money back if I filed my taxes next April. While financial terms were flying over my head, I immediately became confused when talking about tax refunds. I didn’t know that was possible, and I’m not alone.
Many high school students are about to face one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives: how to pay for college. However, most of us aren’t ready to make this decision and the many others that will follow, from paying rent to using credit cards to saving for that fabled rainy day. What we don’t know about money management may follow us for decades to come.
I go to Stuyvesant High School where students can take 30 AP classes and choose from over 50 electives. But until recently, there was no personal finance class. Students graduate from college well prepared but often clueless about managing their money.
In 2021, I wrote in my high school newspaper, The Stuyvesant Spectator, about the need for financial literacy education. my piece led Stuyvesant to create a personal finance elective the following academic year. I was delighted with the school administration’s response to the article, but soon realized that simply offering a class was not enough. In a class of over 800 students, only 8% of seniors could participate in the course.
Unable to register due to high demand, I sat in on the class several times. I watched seniors review their college admissions and financial aid packages and were shown how to budget with real numbers. In another lesson, they learned about the marketing tactics that companies use to entice customers; Students created their own imaginary companies using these strategies to understand how to avoid misleading marketing claims.
Financial literacy is not a subject that only some students need to understand. It’s like health class, a critical area of knowledge that every high schooler needs (yes, even if it means another graduation requirement). Recognizing this, the editors of The Stuyvesant Spectator published a special issue entitled “The Stocktator” to promote the class and its expansion. We talked to teachers, students, and alumni to find out what students want and need from a financial literacy class.
A bill requiring schools to offer and students to complete a financial literacy course is in committee in the New York State Senate.
We found that 89% of students surveyed did not know how to take out a college loan, and 92% of students wanted more financial education. Graduates shared stories of credit abuse, filling out federal financial aid applications without parental help, going into huge debt and still not knowing how to do their taxes.
In response to student demand and media advocacy, our administration expanded the personal finance course from one section to two sections, but without state mandates it is difficult to offer it to everyone. More than a dozen states require personal finance education for high school students, but New York, the nation’s financial capital, is not one of them.
New York State currently requires economics classes (required for graduation) to address personal finance, but in reality at least one semester is needed to introduce topics such as budgeting, banking basics, buying vs. renting, insurance, identity theft, and credit. units.
There are many high schools that would not have the resources to start a personal finance course without a state mandate. A bill requiring schools to offer and students to complete a financial literacy course is in committee in the New York State Senate.
I’m hoping I’ll be lucky enough to get a spot in Stuyvesant’s personal finance class next semester, because I still don’t know how to take out a college loan or how to protect myself from identity theft. I’m still confused about the difference between a checking and savings account, and I don’t know what my credit account is. By the time I got my tax refund, the process was so complicated that I let my dad figure it out. But I’m almost an adult, and I don’t want to start my independent life, limited by the lack of financial literacy.
High schoolers focus a lot on scores when it comes to the SAT, ACT and their GPA. But few of us know enough about the one score that will follow us into adulthood: our credit score. After high school, some of us will never solve a calculus problem again. Our test scores and GPAs will become inconsequential measures of past achievement. But each of us needs to manage our finances. That’s what we have to learn.
Anisha Singhal is a senior at Stuyvesant High School and the opinion editor for the school newspaper. The Stuyvesant Spectator. He is a financial literacy advocate and a football player. You can often find him at Citi Biking in New York City.