Essentials of Personal Finance High School Students Get the Full Wharton Experience

by Diana Drake

On Friday, March 8, 2024, Wharton Global Youth Program hosted nearly 100 high school students at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania during a “Campus Day” visit for three high schools participating in our Embedded Pre-baccalaureate Program, a partnership with the National Education Equity Lab.

Students and teachers from KIPP Newark Lab High School and Newark Collegiate Academy in N.J. and the Academy for Conservation and the Environment in New York City rolled in mid-morning to meet Wharton finance professor David Musto, academic director of the credit-bearing Essentials of Personal Finance class they are taking virtually with the help of Wharton MBA instructors. They also had the opportunity to learn about Wharton and Penn from a student ambassador, as well as explore the Wharton campus during an app-assisted scavenger hunt.

Al’Jaleel of Newark Lab High School.

In true Wharton tradition, the high school visitors spent some time thinking about and even talking about finance as it related to their dual-enrollment course, about which Dr. Musto is especially passionate.

“In today’s world, you are simply more responsible for your financial well-being than you used to be. It’s been fun teaching this to help prepare all of you,” noted Dr. Musto, who taped the instructional videos that accompany the course, which is currently being taught virtually to 500 high school students around the country.

Dr. Musto then revealed that the final video of the course would explore an unexpected topic: negotiation. “We’ve talked to a group of high school students for a student loan app we’re building and a couple of them told us that they got a much better deal for college through negotiating. They said, ‘Well, you’re offering me this [package] and this other school is offering me that [package]. If you give me what they’re offering, I’m yours.’ Negotiating is a life skill, and we want to help you start working on that life skill.”

Al’Jaleel L., a senior at KIPP Newark Lab School, confirmed that Wharton’s Essentials of Personal Finance is teaching him critical survival skills for life after high school.

“I’m bad with money. I blow away all my money, which is a problem. I really should save it. Then when I actually need it, it’s like, man, I spent it on this book I haven’t read yet or on video games,” said Al’Jaleel, who applied to 13 colleges, received 10 acceptances and is awaiting a few more. “When I do have a sustainable amount of income, I definitely don’t want to blow it all away and start from zero every few weeks. A lot of the videos and assignments in our course let me look at it through a different lens than I would have before. Being young, you see money as fun, and you get to do whatever you want with it. But especially when I’m going to college now, I’ve got to understand that I’m entering the adult world and it’s not going to be as easy as $5 here or there.”

Susan of Newark Lab High School.

Al’Jaleel’s classmate, Susan O., said that while the course is college-level, she has embraced the challenge. “I wanted to learn how to measure my own money because I haven’t been taught that,” said Susan, who applied to 22 colleges and hopes to study cybersecurity. “I’m really interested in technology and coding…getting a new life skill [in personal finance] and experiencing new majors to potentially be in has been great.”

Both students agree that Essentials of Personal Finance is also “putting me in the mind of a college student.” With an added in-person visit to Wharton’s campus, they have had the full-circle experience. Next stop: college — with a personal budget.