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Explore how families pay for college, how much they spend, and how they value their education.

Read the How America Pays for College 2019 report (PDF)
View the How America Pays for College 2019 infographic (PDF)
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On average, families spent $26,226 on college in 2018 — 19


of costs were covered by family savings and income


of costs were covered by scholarships and grants


of costs were covered by borrowing


of costs were covered by friends and family

College planning tip


Scholarships are an important resource when paying for college. They provide families with free money they don't need to pay back.

Find scholarships for college

Both parents and students believe that college is worth the investment

  • 7 in 10 students and parents say the price of college is a good value—either appropriately priced, a bargain, or worth every penny.
  • 79% of parents and 75% of students are willing to stretch themselves financially to pay for college.
  • 84% of families believe college will help their student get a higher paying job.

Families are increasingly confident about how they’re paying—and planning—for college





  80% feel confident about how they're paying for college 





  44% have a plan to pay for all years of college 

College planning tip


If you're still figuring out how much you need to save for college, a cost calculator can help you understand whether your goals are on target.

Create a customized plan for your family

Nearly 6 in 10 families who borrowed (57%) say that borrowing was always part of how they planned to pay for college

Families use different strategies to help them prepare to pay for college


research college costs and financial aid


budget how much they’ll cover with savings, borrowing, and other resources


have students taking AP classes or dual-enrolling in community college


invest in their student’s talents to increase the chances they'll earn a scholarship

Cost is a top factor when choosing a college

  • Families are more likely to consider cost than academic criteria when choosing a college (77% vs 73%).
  • Students are more likely than parents to reject a school because of cost (88% vs 70%).
  • Students are more likely than their parents to rule out a school after reviewing the financial aid package (67% vs 54%).

Students, on average, apply to four schools and are accepted to about three schools, giving them options for their final decision

Most families decide together how they’ll pay for college

  • 51% of families say the parent and student share the responsibility of decision-making.
  • 12% of families say the parent is the primary decision-maker.
  • 18% say the student is the sole decision-maker.

College planning tip


It’s never too early to begin talking about how your family will pay for college—and who will be responsible for paying back any student loans.

Get help starting the college conversation

77% of families complete the FAFSA to get access to more than $150 billion in financial aid

But 1 in 4 families are still skipping this step, missing out on potential aid


of those who didn’t file a FAFSA say they thought they wouldn’t qualify for aid


didn’t file because they didn’t know about it—or missed the deadline


were missing information, didn’t have time, or felt the process was too complicated

College planning tip


Families can file a FAFSA beginning October 1. The FAFSA is the only way to get access to more than $150 billion in grants, work-study, and federal student loans.

Get tips on filing a FAFSA

Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.