How to Save for College as a High School Student: Expert Tips

how to save for college in high school, tip and saving jar, illustration
How to Save for College as a High School Student

High school may feel like it’s going to go on forever. But sooner than you think, you’ll be in your final year and deciding which college to attend. However, you don’t have to wait until then to plan how to pay for college. 

It’s never too early to start saving, especially for college. Even in high school, there are several actions students can take to reduce the financial burden later on when it comes to tuition, living expenses, and other college fees. By saving now, you’ll be doing yourself a favor in the long run. 

How Much Should You Save for College?

The amount you need to save for college varies based on different factors. These include the type of college you want to go to, where you plan to live, your family’s financial situation, and the financial aid you’ll receive.

To figure out how much to save, add up your estimates for tuition and fees, room and board (if applicable), and school supplies for all four years. Then, subtract the total financial aid you expect to get (including grants and scholarships) for the entire four-year period.

You can use the Federal Student Aid Estimator tool to get an idea of the federal student aid you might receive.

For example, let’s say you plan to attend a public college in your state. Over four years, you might spend around $43,000 on tuition and fees, $5,000 on books and supplies, and $48,000 on room and board. That adds up to $96,000.

Suppose you receive $8,000 in grant aid each year, totaling $32,000 for four years, and a $5,000 scholarship for the first year only. That’s a total of $37,000 in financial aid.

By subtracting your total financial aid amount ($37,000) from your total college expenses ($96,000), you’ll need to save $59,000 for college.

Best Ways and Tips to Save for College

Now that you know how much you should save for college, you might be thinking about how to achieve that goal, especially if you’re a student trying to save money by yourself. You might be wondering if a specific way is considered the best for saving for college.

Choosing which college to attend is a major decision for high school students. It means a new school, new people, and a lot of money you’ll need to spend. But who will pay for college? Will it be your parents, scholarships, or you? Regardless of who covers the costs, you can still contribute by saving money while you’re in high school. It might feel overwhelming if you’re unsure where to begin but don’t worry. There are five simple ways to start saving right now.

Open a Savings Account

Based on research data from Sallie Mae, most Americans allocate only 40% of their college savings into a dedicated account explicitly intended for college expenses.

Opening a savings account is a smart move, regardless of the timing. If you have a specific goal, such as college savings, there’s no reason not to start one. Visit your local bank and inquire about special offers for students or those saving up for school. Make an initial deposit as most banks require; you have control over the account from there. You can regularly add money from your job or allowance if you still receive one or simply let the initial funds stay in the account. Either way, the money in the account will earn interest. By the time college comes around, you’ll have some funds to support your education.

Save Your Allowance

Suppose your parents or guardians give you a regular allowance. In that case, you can ask them if they would transfer it directly into your savings account instead of giving you the money in cash or depositing it into your checking account. By doing this, you can start earning interest on that money as early as possible.

Your allowance may not seem like much, but it’s a consistent source of funds that can accumulate over time. Use it to build up a financial cushion for future college expenses. While spending it all on immediate purchases like books or games may be tempting, you might need money for essentials like tuition or meals later on.

Get a Part-Time Job

student working at supermarket part time job, saving for college, illustration
Get a Part-Time Job

Although high school students have limited job options, opportunities are still available. Check local supermarkets and retail stores to see if nearby places accommodate a student’s schedule. By getting a job, you’ll learn about responsibility, which will be crucial when you live independently in college. Moreover, you’ll earn money that can contribute towards tuition or books. As you consistently make money, you can combine it with opening a savings account and let it grow through your remaining high school years.

If you have the summer before college free, it’s a fantastic chance to take on a job and earn some extra cash before starting college in the fall. Even if your fall expenses are already covered, it’s wise to seize any opportunity to earn additional money for future unexpected expenses. Additionally, a summer job might offer the chance to earn college credits early through a paid internship.

Take AP classes

High school students can earn college credits while still in high school through Advanced Placement (AP) classes. This opportunity can save both time and money because it reduces the number of classes students need to take once they enter college. The availability and requirements for advanced placement programs may differ among schools, so it’s essential to consult your school advisor for more details.

Another option for high school students is to take International Baccalaureate or community college courses to earn college credit. Doing so allows you to bypass certain general education courses in your first year of college, which helps reduce tuition expenses.

Also Read: Best 11 Expert Money Management Tips Every College Student Must Know

    Get a 529 Plan

    There are two types of 529 plans that can help you save for college. One is a pre-paid tuition plan, where you make regular payments to cover your future tuition and class fees. The other type is a college savings plan that covers tuition and other college expenses. 

    The process works similarly for both plans. A family member can open these accounts for you, and you or someone else can contribute to them. Every state offers some form of these plans, and applying for them is simple. Just look up the options available in your state online, and you’ll find ways to save money for college.

    Get Your Grades Up & Apply for Scholarships

    college student getting grades up to save money for college, illustration
    Get Your Grades Up & Apply for Scholarships

    Improving your grades may not directly save you money, but it can significantly impact your college expenses. Nowadays, numerous scholarships are available, and having a strong GPA makes it much easier to secure them. 

    Focus on your studies during your last few high school years and actively engage in extracurricular activities. Explore new study methods and identify areas where you typically struggle, aiming to enhance your performance. This will increase your chances of receiving scholarships from your preferred college and external organizations and prepare you for success in both work and academics throughout college.

    Sell Stuff You Don’t Need

    It’s a great opportunity to reassess your belongings when preparing to go to college. Look at what you’ll be bringing with you, what can stay behind, and what you no longer need. Items like clothing, video games, and other things you’ve outgrown or don’t use anymore can help you earn extra money for college. 

    Many high school students have toys, clothes, and other items they no longer require. Instead of letting them sit around the house, you can take advantage of these unused possessions and turn them into cash. Sell them individually online or organize a garage sale.

    Platforms like Craigslist and eBay can help sell items online. If you don’t have enough items for a garage sale, consider teaming up with other students who also need extra money. By pooling your things together, you can attract a larger audience and potentially earn more money overall.

    Be Smart with Your Spendings

    Find areas where you can reduce your expenses. It’s a good idea to start paying attention to your spending habits. Even small purchases can add up over time. For example, if you usually buy lunch at school, try bringing a homemade lunch instead. 

    Saving just $10 per week for a whole year adds up to $520. That extra money can be put towards your college fund and cover expenses like application fees. While the savings may not seem huge initially, cutting down on unnecessary spending can make a significant difference in the long run and help lessen the financial pressure.


    In conclusion, it’s never too early to start saving for college. Students can reduce the financial burden by taking proactive steps, such as opening a savings account, working part-time, earning college credits in high school, and applying for scholarships. Additionally, being mindful of spending habits and selling unused items can contribute to long-term savings. Starting early and making informed financial decisions can make college more manageable.

    Starting early, being resourceful, and making informed financial decisions can help students prepare for the financial demands of college. By taking these steps, students can alleviate some of the financial pressures and make their college journey more manageable.

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