Enrolling in a trade school or college is widely considered the next step after a student graduates from high school. College is especially popular, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 62.7% of high school graduates went on to colleges and universities in 2020.
Finding ways to pay for higher education has long been a goal for students and their families. PrepScholar, a college testing preparation resource, calculates that, by 2033, students can expect to pay around $237,000 at in-state public universities and $464,000 at private colleges or universities for four-year degrees.
That high cost is why so many families take proactive steps to set aside funds for college soon after their children are born. No matter the situation, taking the steps to plan and save helps to make schooling more affordable.
529 college savings plan
A 529 is a specialized savings account for college and university costs. Most plans can be opened by a U.S. citizen or resident alien age 18 and older. The individual opening the account can be a parent, grandparent, cousin, or even a friend. The student is the beneficiary of the account.
Four-year schools, community colleges and vocational/trade schools accept 529 accounts as payment sources. The only requirement is that the school must participate in the U.S. Department of Education student financial aid programs.
Education savings account, or Education IRA
The financial experts at Ramsey Solutions say an ESA works like a Roth IRA, but it is designed specifically for education expenses. Individuals can invest up to $2,000 (after tax) per year, per child. The account grows tax-free. The rate of growth varies based on investments in the account.
Ramsey estimates that at an average return rate of 12% on a $36,000 investment ($2,000 per year for 18 years) would grow to around $126,000 by the time the child starts college. An ESA can also be used to pay for K-12 private school tuition, school supplies, tutoring, or textbooks. It also can be transferred to a sibling if the money is not needed for a particular student.
This plan is different from ESAs and 529s because it is not specifically designed for college savings. The Uniform Transfer/Gift to Minors Act is in the child’s name but is controlled by a guardian until the child reaches age 18 or 21. This mutual fund account can be used to save for college with reduced taxes, or funds can be used for other expenses, such as a car or housing.
Advanced placement classes
AP classes allow high school students to take college-level courses that can be converted into college credits. Each AP class reduces the need to pay for a class in college. This can add up to some significant savings. In addition, performing well in AP classes may make students more attractive to colleges and universities, helping students to earn academic scholarships.
Saving for college can start early and there are various vehicles for families to explore.