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How Much Should I Save for College?

June 25, 2018

Determine how much to save for your kids’ college education.

Alongside buying a house and saving for retirement, sending kids to college is a major financial goal. If you have young kids or teenagers, you’re no doubt thinking about how you’ll pay for them to go to college. Some parents start saving for college early, when their kids are in diapers. Others get a later start, when their kids are in high school. Regardless of where you are in the process, you’re putting your best foot forward by committing to save toward this all-important milestone.

Most Americans use a combination of methods to pay for college: personal savings, 529 plans, financial aid (e.g., grants, scholarships, tuition discounts, and student loans), help from grandparents, and even crowdfunding. Today, we’ll be focusing on the personal savings part of the equation.

What will college tuition cost in five to 10 years? While we don’t have a crystal ball, we can look at historical data to give you a sense of what you should be saving.

First, some background: The cost to attend college has been steadily climbing over the past 30 years, and will continue to climb. According to the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing report, tuition at public universities rose more than 200 percent during that time frame, while tuition at private universities rose more than 125 percent. And Vanguard predicts that, in the coming years, college costs will rise by six percent annually.

Using that six percent estimation as a benchmark, let’s project what tuition will cost at several public and private universities around the country. We’ve looked at sticker prices for students starting in five years, 10 years, and 15 years, and we’ve assumed that the students will be attending college for four years and that parents have saved five percent of the cost.



Harvard University

Northwestern University

University of Alabama (In state)


(In state)

University of Michigan

(In state)

Current cost for 4 years (2018)






In 5 years (2023)






In 10 years (2028)






In 15 years (2033)






*Source: College Data, based on college costs rising six percent annually



Harvard University

Northwestern University

University of Alabama


University of Michigan

In 5 years (2023)






In 10 years (2028)






In 15 years (2033)






*Source: College Board, based on college costs rising six percent annually and parents saving five percent total toward the cost of college

Of course, these estimations are based on sticker prices, not net prices: Most students won’t be paying full price, and you may be able to put away more than five percent toward paying the cost of sending your child to college. But the overall estimations give you a good sense of what to expect in terms of where pricing is going, and what expected contributions may be.

If you’d like to do some research yourself and get a better understanding of what you may be expected to pay, first look at your potential college’s average net price, estimate your expected family contribution, and then play around with the College Board’s College Cost Calculator or Vanguard’s College Cost Estimator.

Alternatively, if you’re just looking for more general projections, PolicyGenius has put together some handy charts projecting average 2028 college costs at both public and private universities around the country.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed looking at the numbers, but you’ve already taken an important first step by planning ahead. And when it does come time to research, apply, and pay for college, you’ll be an informed consumer, able to approach the process in a way that makes college as affordable as possible.