As for money-saving opportunities, student discounts abound. Around almost any campus, merchants will offer deals for student customers. Ask, and you may receive.
Many students think living off campus will be less costly than dorm life and a meal plan, but Therese Nicklas, a financial advisor and wealth coach for women at U.S. Wealth Management, said that's not necessarily true. Before taking that leap, Nicklas suggests talking to a college housing officer or perusing Craigslist to get an estimate of apartment rental costs, and checking the local supermarket for prices on food. Be aware, too, that an apartment roommate may bail on the rent, a risk that is not present in a dorm.
"Take a good hard look at this before you make a decision," Nicklas warned.
The good news is that the college years offer a relatively safe transition into financial adulthood. Freshmen who steer clear of credit cards, keep an eye on bank fees, keep up their grades, and go easy on midnight pizzas should be just fine.
Said Levine, "They don't have to have their whole life planned out as freshmen. But if they are paying attention, that will go a long way."
—By CNBC's Kelley Holland