Personal Finance for University Students: Financial Literacy at NYUAD

NYU Abu Dhabi is a place that celebrates diversity in all its forms. The newest class of 2024 alone is composed of almost 500 students coming from 80 countries around the world. Given the different financial circumstances, mindsets, and financial responsibilities the Office of Student Life, which creates and administers a variety of programs for the needs of the students, hosted a program consisting of four stand-alone sessions surrounding the topic of Financial Literacy. The workshops were developed following best practices from NFEC (National Financial Educators Council) in collaboration with students, who work with the office to facilitate money-related processes regarding student-led interest groups and activities on campus. Our main goal was to help undergraduate students familiarize themselves with healthy personal finance habits that build better relationships between money and their own emotions. The program kicked off by facilitating a better understanding of pre-existing financial behaviors and philosophies. The second session provided students with ‘hard’ skills dealing with budgeting. Consequently, the third session focused on financial considerations when studying away, thus enabling students to contextualize their financial mindsets. On the other hand, our fourth and final session focused on budgeting while planning for post-graduation academic as well as employment opportunities (according to our pre-session assessment, 50% of our attendees are hoping to pursue graduate studies, 35.7% are after employment opportunities, about 7% would like to start their own business, and another 7% are not sure what they would like to do after completing their undergraduate degree). All the sessions drew on current student’s personal examples and relevant research as the backbone evidence. 

Many students at NYUAD have demonstrated interest in forming positive personal finance habits and Student Life has collaborated with external vendors in 2019 and 2020 to provide training on financial literacy. Having hosted a number of such trainings, we have learned that some of the real life examples shared in these workshops do not resonate with our students and their life on campus. Hence, we have collaborated with current NYUAD students and Student Government to curate the NYUAD Financial Literacy Series for the student body. The insight and contribution of our current students has been paramount to the success of our series. You can learn more about each of the sessions in our offerings by reading the full article below. 

In the first session, our goal was to help students foster a positive relationship with money and personal finance through reflecting on their relationship with these in the past. staff and student leaders set clear guidelines around respect and privacy for the workshop, many attendees felt comfortable sharing their personal experiences in smaller groups. Since the first discussion had over 30 participants, we addressed these issues in smaller Zoom break-out rooms. After the discussion, student-hosts summarized the main types of influences that come from parents and caretakers, personal experiences, peers and influencers, media consumption as well as formal and informal financial education. This session was also joined by the Student Government Diversity Committee, who emphasized the importance of being open with financial diversity, especially given NYUAD’s community. 

“On the NYUAD campus, we rarely get a chance to talk about our finances even though one’s financial knowledge and wellness matters in all aspects of life. University experiences should not only give us academic knowledge but also equip us with skills that we can use later in life. I was so happy to hear that Student Life initiated their Financial Literacy workshops which would help our students be more aware and make informed decisions about money. I felt it was the perfect opportunity to introduce the topic of financial diversity that exists on campus into mainstream discourse and how our experiences and decisions may differ based on our financial backgrounds. Overall, I really enjoyed presenting at and attending the workshop! I hope Student Life continues to engage students in such beneficial programming” – Amna Hassan, NYUAD Class of 2021

Then, the hosts discussed the concept of financial wellbeing and linked the philosophical idea of money and emotions to it, adding a layer of holistic understanding of the subject matter. Finally, reflecting on the topics explored during the session, the hosts concluded with a summary and a Q&A segment. 

The second session of the program primarily focused on empowering undergraduate students by instilling in them hard skills and providing them with the tools to better approach financial goal-setting and long-term financial planning. The session’s hosts contextualized personal budgeting through the curriculum’s focus on the new disbursement method, on-campus opportunities and general student expenses. Using breakout rooms, participants were paired and were encouraged to discuss how the new disbursement process had affected their financial wellbeing. Despite the sensitivity of the topic, students were encouraged to be brave but also to share as much as they are comfortable. This conversation was followed by another intimate discussion about best practices for budgeting on-campus and a Kahoot activity that primarily focused on students’ current financial thought process. Indeed, this activity helped students reflect on their current habits and encouraged responsible planning and budgeting among students during the session. In an effort to move beyond discussion, facilitators shared a sample monthly personal budget/balance sheet with participants and walked them through filling it out as a strategy to monitor their income, savings, and spending. This tool distinguishes between campus-specific types of expenses, methods of payments as well as potential sources of income and aims to help students set sustainable financial goals for their future. 

The penultimate workshop was centered around financial considerations when studying away or going-local. The goal for students at the end of the session was to be able to contextualize personal finance through focusing on the new disbursement method, study aways, travelling and other aspects of student experiences. A lot of information differed on the basis of site-specific tips to bear in mind. 

We wrapped up the Financial Literacy workshops with a session on post-graduation budgeting and planning ahead. The goal of this workshop was to encourage and educate students to think intentionally about post-graduation financial independence and responsibilities. The content of the workshop included financial planning for graduate school and professional opportunities within the UAE  or abroad. Using the results from the pre-workshop assessment survey, we were able to tailor the workshop accordingly. Thus, we delved into the topics of researching about the right program, living costs and potential scholarships which could help students cover tuition and living costs. While accommodating the students who wanted to work in the industry post-graduation, we also discussed the topics such as personal finances and budgeting, housing and transportation bills and taxes. To make it more informative and practical, we also shared the useful resources to navigate these budgeting problems.  

Financial Literacy participants were encouraged to enroll into free Coursera offerings on Financial Planning for Young Adults as well as Personal and Family Financial Planning to learn more about financial goal setting, saving and investing, budgeting, financial risk, borrowing and credit. It is very important for students to continue developing positive personal finance skills, which will help them achieve their financial goals and allow them to take advantage of a financially secure future. 


by Roman Kohut and Zixi Li, Maryam Al Marzooqi, Mamle Akosua Kwao, Kristos Baffour, Usman Ali, Vatsa Singh, Ana Maria Radu, Waad Abrahim, Mesekerem Zerdo, and Mike Leo. If you have any questions or comments about this publication, please do not hesitate to reach out to nyuad.financialliteracy@nyu.edu.