Learn how families paid for college during the pandemic, and more

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Families spent less on college, using a combination of financial resources to pay

Families spent an average of $26,373 on college in academic year 2020-21, down 12% from $30,017 last year

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Family income and savings covered
53% of college costs

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Scholarships and grants covered
25% of costs

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Borrowing covered
20% of costs

dark blue icon of a parent and child with a blue-green gradient shape in the background.

Relatives and friends covered
2% of costs

Share of college costs paid by each funding source

Scholarships and grants, 25%. Parent income and savings, 45%.  Parent borrowing, 9%.  Student income and savings, 8%.  Student borrowing, 11%.  Relatives and friends, 2%.
dark blue text on a light gradient background that reads, "Of those who used federal student loans, 44% expect their loans to be forgiven"
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More families are paying ahead

a large statistic icon showing 56% in a blue to green gradient.

of families are making student loan payments while in school, up from 46% in AY 2019–20

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dark blue icon of a scholarship ribbon award with a blue-green gradient shape in the background.

Scholarships and grants

Scholarships and grants—money that doesn’t need to be paid back—covered 25% of college costs

  • 56% of families used scholarships
  • 50% used grants

Of the 44% of families who didn’t use scholarships, 74% didn’t apply

dark blue icon of a dollar with a clock in front of it with a blue-green gradient shape in the background.

Borrowing to pay for college

Borrowed money, including student loans, covered 20% of college costs

  • 47% of families borrowed to pay for college
  • 32% of students borrowed, for an average of $8,775
  • 21% of parents borrowed, for an average of $11,394

 

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More families had a plan to pay for college than ever before

The proportion of families with a plan to pay for all years of college is at an all-time high

Graphic line chart displaying the percentage of families who have a plan to pay for college over time, starting with AY 2018-19 at 44% and ending with AY 2020-21 at 58%.
dark blue text on a light gradient background that reads, "however, there's still room for discussion about life after college. Only 38% of families have discussed the starting salary for jobs in the student's field of study"

More families are skipping the FAFSA®, which means they could be missing out on thousands in financial aid

Just 68% filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) for AY 2020-21, the lowest percentage reported in the history of our study

graphic bar chart displaying percentage of families who fill out the FAFSA each academic year. This year is the lowest to date at 68%, versus 86% in AY 2016-2017.
dark blue text on a light gradient background that reads, "44% of families who didn't file believed they wouldn't qualify for any financial aid, and 34% said they missed the deadline, found the application problematic or too complicated, or didn't have the time."

While families adapted to online learning, the majority are looking to get back on campus

Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic changed many aspects of college students’ lives. By the end of AY 2020–21, only 11% of families report in-person only learning, with

a large statistic icon showing 89% in a blue to green gradient.

of students taking at least some classes online

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of students would prefer to study online-only in the fall.

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That said, 75% of students and families are eager to return to campus in the fall.

Online learning can open additional doors for minority students

Percentage (%) who strongly or somewhat agree

graphic bar chart displaying percentage of those who strongly agree with the below statements related to online learning, broken out by demographic group.
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Additional resources

How America Pays for College 2021 research report

How America Pays for College 2021 infographic


Join the conversation with #HowAmericaPays


“How America Pays for College 2021” reports the results of online interviews with 985 parents of college students age 18–24 and 1,000 college students age 18–24, April 8–May 4, 2021

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