For high schools students planning on attending college, it’s safe to say that money can be a stressful subject. Tuition certainly isn’t cheap, and regardless of your financial situation, thinking about saving up for college can often feel overwhelming.

Almost every student has a different financial situation, and so college costs and student contributions will vary from family to family. There are many major ways to help pay for college, including financial aid and scholarships. However, this post will focus on smaller-scale ways that high-school students can personally contribute to their own educational costs.

Brief Overview of College Costs and Paying for College

Your actual cost of attending college will depend on a number of factors. There are both billed and unbilled costs of attending college, the latter of which includes incidental and everyday expenses. If you’ve ever looked at a breakdown of the costs of attending college, you’ve probably noticed that tuition figures are only a part of the total cost—that’s because there are incidental and everyday expenses that will affect the cost of your college education.

Usually, the amount you contribute to the cost of your college education, if anything, will be considered a family decision. Most colleges will expect your parents to pay for the bulk of your education, although this isn’t always the case. While need-based financial aid and merit-based scholarships can help soften the blow to your bank account, usually, you and your family will have to pay for some things out of pocket.

Your parents might already have a college savings account set up for you, such as a 529 plan. You should talk to your parents about how this will affect your budget.

How much will colleges expect me to contribute financially to my own education?

The amount that you contribute to your college education will depend on the school, but in general you’ll probably be expected to contribute something. In addition to your expected family contribution, your school will likely have a standard yearly expected student contribution as a part of your budget. The student contribution can come from savings, summer income, and term-time work. In addition, if you have substantial savings, a trust fund, or some other significant amount of money, you’ll likely be expected by your school to contribute more towards your education.

Again, this all depends on where you plan on attending college. For more detailed information about student contributions, you can look on your school’s website or reach out to a financial aid officer.

How can I earn money while I’m in high school?

With all the financial stresses of paying for college, you might be wondering how you can take matters into your own hands.

There are certainly ways you can earn money in high school that might be able to help you pay for college. First and foremost, you can save up money from gifts. Rather than spending all of the money that you receive for holidays or your birthday on clothes, concert tickets, or other extraneous things, you might want to consider putting some of it in the bank for later.

You could also consider entering into writing contests or other activities with monetary prizes. Check out the Davidson Gifted Database which features a number of academic contests, many of which offer cash prizes.

Summer jobs or paid internships are also great opportunities for longer hours and perhaps less conflict with school or other activities. You can also pursue a job during the school year—though these can be harder to schedule, there are often advantages to a committing to a job year-round. It can be helpful to build up an ongoing commitment to one place, and to build a relationship with your boss, this way you learn important workplace skills that will be useful throughout your life.

Another impressive idea might be to come up with your own business. You might want to start selling your own homemade scarves or maybe you want to design your own app. This can demonstrate your ability to take initiative and help you build upon your leadership skills. However, if you do decide to move forward with your idea, be aware that it can be rather time consuming and you’ll need to be sure to research legal issues very carefully—make sure, for example, you’re not infringing on anything that is copyrighted within your business.

How do I make a plan for saving money?

When it comes to paying for college, it might be a wise idea to make a plan regarding how you will save money in the long term.

A good first step in order to start making your plan is to get a better understanding of how much college will likely cost you. Schools will usually have online budgeting resources and financial aid estimators. The accuracy of these calculators can vary, and their degree of accuracy often depends on how much information you’re able to put in regarding you and your parents’ finances and the complexity of your family’s financial situation. You might want to think about consulting your parents before you make your plan, or you could input information into the financial aid calculator together.

You might want to think about getting a bank account (or more than one) if you don’t already have one. This can be a good way to learn how to manage your own money by yourself. You could even practice making a budget for yourself—determine how much income (if any) you will earn per month, then determine how much of it you will allow yourself to spend and how much you will save by putting it in the bank.

Think about making specific and concrete goals to aim for. Maybe you have a certain amount in dollars that you’d like to reach in savings, or maybe you want to make enough money to buy a new computer or cell phone. Maybe you need to save up money to see your favorite band in concert. Whatever your goals, it can be good to practice setting an economic goal and then working to achieve it. This experience can also help teach you that saving up for college isn’t so impossible after all—with a little hard work and discipline, you may be surprised as to how quickly your money adds up.

Most sources strongly suggest that you should save at least 20% of your income, but it never hurts to save more. Be sure to keep track of your current personal expenses and look for places where you can reduce your costs or your spending. This, too, can add up over time, and it’s always a smart idea to start learning how to manage your money at a young. You may find that you have a knack for budgeting, or you may discover that there are some areas of money managing that you need to work on. Either way, it’s best to be proactive regarding your finances.

All in all, paying for college can be tricky, but the entire responsibility of paying for tuition doesn’t fall upon your shoulders. You should think about enlisting your parents or other trusted adults to help you save for college as well. Be sure also to look into financial management tools offered by your bank. For example, you might be able to have your paycheck split into your checking and savings accounts automatically.

For more information about financial aid and paying for college, check out these blog posts:

Financial Aid: Need-Blind vs. Need-Aware Admissions

FAFSA, CSS Profile, IDOC, Oh My: A Guide to Financial Aid

How to Evaluate, Compare, and Leverage Financial Aid

What Does It Mean to Be Independent on the FAFSA?

Devin Barricklow

Devin Barricklow

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).
Devin Barricklow