George Lucas Educational Foundation

What Do Kids Really Think About Saving and Paying for College?

What Do Kids Really Think About Saving and Paying for College?

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Fall is here. Which means stressful financial conversations in families with high school age students who are considering college.

As tuition and fees continue to outpace ( well, everything, the questions and answers are growing more and more complex. With the cloud of student loan debt blocking out the sun for an entire generation, families and students are looking for different options – options which are putting more responsibility on the student.

According to Sallie Mae’s How America Pays for College (, historically, parent income has been the most utilized source of funds to pay for college but there has been a steep drop over the past five years. The same study also showed that there has been a steady increase in students paying a share of their own college costs. Last year 56% of students used their own savings and earnings to help pay college costs.

That means tactics such as fundraising, scholarship hunting and cutting education costs are getting more and more essential. Every college dollar raised or saved is $1.50 that won’t have to be paid back from meager paychecks down the road. And for some it’s the difference between saying yes to a dream school or not.

Because the realities of education are making prospective college students a bigger part of the solutions to their own education funding questions, we asked our users (current and in-bound college students) for their advice on what their peers should do to be ready.

According to our self selecting survey, “What Kids Really Think About Saving and Paying for College(, in which over 2600 students aged 13-22 responded, 98% of students believe it is important so save for college, 60% of all students surveyed had already started thinking about saving for college by at least early high school, and 50% of students said they have jobs in high school to pay for college. 

We heard responses which included banking advice for elementary schoolers – one college sophomore advised to get your parents to open up a college savings account as soon as possible and start depositing the $5 bills you get in your birthday cards.

Several students suggested an early college savings account – the 529. Others suggested using bank programs, which round up purchases and deposit the change into a college account. But one student, a college junior, suggested another route – turn down the ATM card. That way, he said, your money is less available and you’re less tempted to spend it.

The most common answer was stop spending. Delay gratification. Heels, cars and coffee came up. Starbucks was mentioned 39 times.

Working was also popular advice. And for many young people it’s more essential than optional. But here’s some great insight from a college senior about working to pay college: if you need to get a job, “…try to seek out jobs that will contribute to your college degree. Places like Starbucks, IKEA, and Chik-Fil-A have programs in place to help with the cost of college.”

But many, many students shared advice about asking others for help – raising money.

Whether through direct family appeals, by sending graduation announcements or leveraging planning and raising platforms such as Goennounce, most students realized they need help.  More than two-thirds of the students surveyed believed that by sharing school and extracurricular achievements and goals with relatives, family friends, and mentors in their life, they would be likely to help.  Again, according to the Sallie Mae report, in 2014, 17% of relatives and friends contributed to a student's college costs – paying more than $4,700 per student per year.  

That’s a good thing.

It’s sad that so much of college planning and financing is falling to the students themselves. But students who plan ahead and ask for help usually get it.

Even the student who recommended saving birthday checks in elementary school was on to something – the sooner students and their families have a plan, the better. 

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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