$1.73 trillion — that’s how much Americans currently owe in student loans. This may feel like an overwhelming number, but it’s important that students and their families pay attention to the current reality of pursuing a four-year degree in the United States. As today’s high school students navigate the college application process, it’s impossible for them to approach it in the same way their parents or families may have a few decades ago, as the average cost of higher education tuition and fees has more than tripled from 1971-72 to 2019-2020. At Tallo, we’ve provided resources to help students go to college for free and to guide graduates on how to reduce student loan debt, but we also wanted to go directly to the source to learn how students are currently preparing for their next steps in their educational journey. From August 9 – August 22, 2021, we asked a national sample of 2,501 students about their plans for saving for college and what they’re ultimately looking for in a higher education environment.
Saving For College
The vast majority of survey respondents (74%) are currently saving money for their college tuition. Fifteen percent reported that they are not currently saving money for tuition, and 11% were unsure.
However, less than half of all survey respondents (46%) reported that their family and/or guardian is currently saving money for their college tuition. 35% reported that their family and/or guardian is not currently saving money for their tuition, and 19% were unsure. We noticed some differences in responses to this question from students of different racial and/or ethnic identities. For example, 60% of survey respondents who identify as Asian said their family and/or guardian is currently saving money for their tuition (23% reported “no,” and 17% reported that they were unsure) while both 40% of survey respondents who identify as Hispanic and 40% of survey respondents who identify as Black or African American said their family and/or guardian is currently saving money for their tuition. Additionally, 48% of survey respondents who identify as white said their family and/or guardian is currently saving money for their tuition (37% reported “no,” and 15% reported that they were unsure).
What Students Want From a College
When we asked students to report the #1 thing they’re looking for when choosing a college, the majority (63%) selected “Academics and/or major.” Financial aid and/or scholarships took second place with 22% of the vote, while campus life and/or extracurriculars (6%), college town and/or surrounding area (5%), admissions selectivity and/or reputation (3%), and social scene (1%) all fell towards the bottom of the list.
We also noticed some differences between how respondents of various racial and/or ethnic identities responded to this question. While overall, 22% of students reported that financial aid and/or scholarships were the #1 thing they look for when selecting a college, that response was higher for students who identify as Hispanic (27%) and students who identify as Black or African American (26%). 22% of students who identify as Asian chose that response, while only 17% of respondents who identify as white selected it.
Additionally, we asked students to share their top priorities at school. Nearly half of the surveyed students (48%) selected “learning.” Earning good grades came in second place at 26%, preparing for postgraduate life took third at 22%, and clubs and/or extracurricular activities (2%), friends (1%), and sports (1%) were the three least popular options.