Best Credit Card for College Students

How we picked the cards to evaluate:

NerdWallet reviewed about a dozen credit cards in 2023 that were marketed specifically to college students, as well as more than 20 secured credit cards available to people with no credit or a thin credit profile. The cards we reviewed include products from NerdWallet partners, but this did not influence our selection of the winner.

How we chose the winner:

When choosing our best credit card for college students, we considered the following factors in descending order of importance:
  • Account availability (what kind of credit profile is needed to qualify).
  • Credit reporting (whether the card reports activity to all three major credit bureaus).
  • Annual and other fees (including foreign transaction fees).
  • Incentives for responsible behavior (such as bonuses or elevated rewards).
  • Upgrade possibilities (to a card with better rewards, lower fees, etc.).
  • Rewards rates.
  • Redemption rules and options.
  • How much effort is required to manage the card (for example, whether you must activate rewards categories).
  • Introductory and ongoing APRs.
Cards' NerdWallet star ratings alone do not determine awards. Here's how our credit cards team distinguishes between star ratings and award selections:
  • Star ratings are quantitative: We assess the features of a card, score those features according to how they compare with other options on the market and assign the card a rating of 1 to 5 stars based on those features. In general, a card that rates 4.5 sta rs will be a better value for more people than a card that rates 4.0 stars. However, the 4.0 card might be better than the 4.5 card for an individual consumer depending on that person’s circumstances.
  • Selection for awards is both quantitative and qualitative: Selection for the awards is based on discussion among editorial team members and relies on the same criteria used for the star ratings. However, star ratings alone do not dictate awards. Rather, the awards identify the best cards for specific uses or specific types of consumers, such as college students.

How we verified our data:

NerdWallet gets credit card information from partner issuers through automated data feeds. Information about cards from nonpartner issuers is verified on the issuers’ websites.