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Each family’s paying-for-college strategy is unique—but it’s typically a shared responsibility between student and parent

Explore how families pay for college, how much they spend, and how they reach their funding decisions.

Read the How America Pays for College 2018 report (PDF)
View the How America Pays for College 2018 infographic (PDF)
Read the news release


In 2017 – 18, families spent an average of $26,458 on college; income and savings covered nearly half of college expenses


of costs were covered by family income & savings


of costs were covered by scholarships and grants


of costs were covered by borrowing

Read about the paying-for-college combo families rely on

Family income & savings

Both parents and students are invested in contributing their own money to pay for college





  Parent income & savings: 34%

Parents pay one-third of college costs out-of-pocket, for an average of $8,891.





  Student income & savings: 13%

Students contribute an average of $3,339 of their own money to pay for school.

Parents with first-in-family college students contribute more of their income and savings than second-generation parents (45% vs 30%)

See how first-in-family college students make different choices on how to pay for it

College planning tip


Scholarships are a valuable part of the paying-for-college mix. Students should look for all the “free money” they can.

Search for scholarships

Family borrowing

65% of families who borrow say it was an expected part of their paying-for-college budget





  53% of families borrow

One-third of parents whose children borrowed a student loan say they’ll share the responsibility for making loan payments until their student is financially stable.

Read about the top three borrowing strategies for student loans





  Borrowing covers 24% of costs

Parent borrowing paid for an average of 10% of college costs; student borrowing paid for 14%.

Learn how families borrow for college

FAFSA—the gateway to more than $150 billion in federal aid

Three quarters of families (75%) complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Nearly one-third of families are taking advantage of the earlier October 1 FAFSA starting date

About one-quarter filed early to increase their chances of getting aid on a first-come, first-served basis (27%).

More than one-fifth wanted to get the filing over with and reduce their stress level (28%).

More than one in 10 knew they needed financial aid to go to college and wanted to get their application in ASAP (13%).

Just over 10 percent felt that knowing their aid amount earlier would give them more time to adjust their plan to pay for college (11%).

College planning tip


Filing a FAFSA is the single most important thing a student can do to get money for college—there’s more than $150 billion in grants, work-study, and federal student loans.

Learn about filing a FAFSA

25% of families didn’t complete the FAFSA

Families claimed they “knew” they wouldn’t qualify for financial aid.

Families didn’t know about the FAFSA or they missed the deadline.

Families encountered glitches, didn’t have info, felt it was too complicated, or didn’t make the time to submit the FAFSA.

Read about families and the FAFSA—filing, finances, and fears

Additional resources


How America Pays for College 2018 research report (PDF)

How America Pays for College 2018 infographic (PDF)

News release

Past reports

How America Pays for College 2018, by Sallie Mae, the nation's saving, planning, and paying for college company, and Ipsos, the world's third-largest market research company, reports the results of 1,589 online interviews conducted between July 11 and July 30, 2018, with 799 parents of 18 to 24-year-old undergraduate students, and 700 18 to 24-year-old undergraduate students.