Higher Ambitions: How America Plans for Post-secondary Education 2020

By Sallie Mae® and Ipsos

94% of high school students are likely to continue their education after high school

What factors do students and families consider when choosing a school? How do they save and plan to pay for higher education?

See how you compare to other families and get planning tips to help you reach your goals.

Read the research report
Read the adjunct research report featuring COVID-19 research
View the infographic


Higher education doesn't look the same for everyone

Students' higher education plans


Top factors families consider when deciding on a school

accent icon svg for undergraduate loan dark blue and coral. degree certificate scroll with ribbon

Offers programs related to the student’s desired career or major (58%)

icon dark blue with coral accent for location map pin geography

Location (52%)

accent icon svg for financial aid in dark blue and coral. outstretched hand offering money coin

Financial aid offer received (48%)

icon for cost of college dark blue with coral accent stack of money dollars expensive pay charge

Total cost of degree (32%)

Creating a plan to pay for higher education is a family decision
78% of students have a role in creating the plan

Steps families have taken to plan

Planning tip

Use our free Scholarship Search tool to access more than 6 million scholarships worth up to $30 billion.

Look for scholarships

Slightly more than half of families (54%) have a plan for how to pay for higher education

average saved by planners

average saved by non-planners

Planners are 3x as likely to be confident about meeting the cost of higher education

of planners confident about meeting costs

non-planners confident about meeting costs

90% of families have had a “college talk” but only two-thirds have discussed how they’ll pay

Higher education planning topics discussed

schools the student is interested in


college prep or SAT/ACT prep

who will pay for education

total cost of education

High school seniors delay completing the FAFSA®, which may result in less federal financial aid


Planning tip

Get timely information about filing the FAFSA®.

Read our FAFSA® guide

Families are looking for more
financial literacy support

Only half of students

say their high school teaches basic financial literacy skills, such as budgeting, using credit, and understanding interest

89% of parents

want their students high school to teach financial literacy if it currently isn't

Additional resources

Higher Ambitions: How America Plans for Post-secondary Education 2020 research report

Higher Ambitions Adjunct Report featuring COVID-19 research

Higher Ambitions 2020 Infographic


Join the conversation with #HowAmericaPlans

Ipsos conducted the Higher Ambitions: How America Plans for Post-secondary Education survey online, in English between Wednesday, January 8, 2020 and Friday, January 17, 2020.

Ipsos interviewed 1,503 parents with a high school student and 1,507 current high school students from the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii.

footnote FAFSA® is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.