How to Start Savings for College While in High School: 8 Strategies

 June 30, 2020
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If you’re already wondering how to start saving for college while in high school, you’re not too early to get started. That’s because a single year at a public university costs nearly $10,000, on average, and a private school is likely to set you back further.

With the high cost of an education — and with or without your parents’ financial support — saving up could be left to you. Fortunately, it’s doable.

8 strategies to save money for college while in high school

Here are eight things you can do to save for college while in high school.

1. Boost your grades
2. Participate in extracurriculars
3. Apply for a part-time job
4. Research scholarships and grants
5. Sell stuff you don’t use
6. Take Advanced Placement (AP) courses
7. Open a bank account
8. Brush up on basics of paying for college

1. Boost your grades

Many colleges and universities offer merit scholarships for academics. If you have good grades or above-average scores on standardized tests, you could qualify for a scholarship that covers some or all of your tuition, fees and school supplies.

You can increase your chances of securing a scholarship by working hard to boost your grades. Putting in the extra time to study for a biology exam might sound boring, but it could help you save thousands later on.

Doing well in school will also open other doors. It could cultivate relationships with teachers and administrators, for example, who could prove helpful when writing recommendation letters for scholarship applications.

2. Participate in extracurriculars

When awarding scholarships, many schools look beyond grades. They like to find students who would be beneficial to the campus and will be active in the school community. If you can keep up your grades, it can be helpful to sign up for a few extracurricular activities, such as student council, sports or the school newspaper.

If you’re intent on snagging a full-ride scholarship, extracurriculars are key. Try joining clubs or leading events on or off-campus that fit with your passions. If you’re still discovering what you like to do in your free time, try giving back: There are scholarships for volunteers in their communities.

3. Apply for a part-time job

The jobs you can get while in high school might not be glamorous, but they can go a long way in helping you pay for school. By taking on a part-time job, you could save money for college while in high school. How much exactly?

Let’s say you got a job at the mall and work 10 hours a week earning $7.25 per hour, the national minimum wage. If you’re a high school sophomore and work year-round for three years, you could save up to $11,310 by the time you start college. That amount doesn’t account for taxes, but even saving up a few thousand dollars can reduce how much you need to borrow for school.

Working a summer job at a big-name retailer with a tuition reimbursement program could be your best move. Amazon, Chipotle and Starbucks are examples of companies with programs that could pay or reimburse you for at least some of your college costs.

4. Research scholarships and grants

Although your college might offer scholarships and grants, it’s not the only available source of financial aid. You can win scholarships from a wide range of organizations, including private businesses, nonprofit organizations and even individuals.

Some award scholarships are based on academics, but there are plenty of other reasons you could earn a scholarship. For example, there are scholarships for talented duck-callers and bowlers.

You don’t have to be in college or even be a high school senior to qualify. There are scholarships available to high schoolers of all ages. Use online scholarship search tools to get started. Also, review our guide to scholarships for high school seniors and speak to your school’s college guidance counselor.

5. Sell stuff you don’t use

Another way to save for college while in high school is to sell stuff you don’t use anymore. If you have books, clothes, old cell phones or electronics lying around, you could turn that clutter into cash. Sell those items and set aside your earnings for your college fund.

To get started, consider a traditional yard sale, posting to Craigslist or, for more unique items, try specialized online apps and websites. You might find success selling electronics on Gazelle.

6. Take Advanced Placement (AP) courses

Taking AP courses and passing College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests can help you graduate from college on time and reduce your education expenses.

When you earn a qualifying score on an AP or CLEP exam, you earn college credit. That can save you from having to take some classes in college, potentially helping you graduate early or fulfill requirements ahead of time.

Depending on the AP courses you take and where you go to college, challenging yourself in high school could help you save thousands.

Also, consider the difference between AP courses and dual enrollment. Taking college classes, perhaps at your local two-year school, is another great way to tick off college requirements before stepping foot on campus. Learn about your state’s programs via the Education Commission of the States.

While you’re at it, study hard for standardized tests: The PSAT has a national merit scholarship, for example.

7. Open a bank account

One of the best ways to prepare for college financially is to open a dedicated bank account in your own name. In fact, you can even earn money for doing so. The best banks for students offer cash bonuses for opening new accounts, giving you a head start on saving for college.

Once you open a bank account, you can direct a percentage of your earnings from your part-time job, scholarship winnings and yard sales. You might consider a high-yield savings account to grow your money and keep it accessible, or a 529 savings plan that can be used exclusively for qualified educational expenses.

If you’re really intent on optimizing your finances, you could also become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card to start building credit while in high school.

8. Learn the basics of paying for college

The first seven strategies above could help you save money for college in high school, but it could all be for naught if you leave for college without fully understanding how to pay for it.

Opting for an expensive private university across the country over the public college in your own backyard, for example, could double your higher education costs. That’s not something you’d want to undertake unknowingly. Saving up for college while in high school could be made harder — or easier — by choosing a school that’s within your means and strategizing a payment plan.

To determine if your dreams schools as affordable, take these steps before you finish the 12th grade:

By taking these steps now, you’ll not only save up for college — you’ll also save for the right college.

Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

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LenderVariable APREligibility 
2.49% – 13.85%1Undergraduate

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0.00% – 23.00%4Undergraduate

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1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community Bank, member FDIC, or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC.. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

  1. As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.
  2. Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
  3. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 9/15/2022. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 3.47% APR to 13.03% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 2.80% APR to 11.69% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

3 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

4 Important Disclosures for Edly.

Edly Disclosures

1. Loan Example:

  • Loans from $5,000 – $20,000
  • Example: $10,000 IBR Loan with a 7% gross income payment percentage for a Senior student making $65,000 annually throughout the life of the loan.
    • Payments deferred for the first 12 months during final year of education.
    • After which, $270 Monthly payment for 12 months.
    • Then $379 Monthly payment for 44 months.
    • Followed by one final payment of $137 for a total of $20,610 paid over the life of the loan.

About this example

The initial payment schedule is set upon receiving final terms and upon confirmation by your school of the loan amount. You may repay this loan at any time by paying an effective APR of 23%. The maximum amount you will pay is $22,500 (not including Late Fees and Returned Check Fees, if any). The maximum number of regularly scheduled payments you will make is 60. You will not pay more than 23% APR. No payment is required if your gross earned income is below $30,000 annually or if you lose your job and cannot find employment.

2. Edly Student IBR Loans are unsecured personal student loans issued by FinWise Bank, a Utah chartered commercial bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to eligibility criteria and review of creditworthiness and history. Terms and conditions apply.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  • Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates are based on the 30-day average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of September 1, 2022, the 30-day average SOFR index is 2.23%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the SOFR index, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable interest rate is the greater of 21.00% or the prime rate plus 9.00%.
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  • Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates are only available for the most creditworthy applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate or medical degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.


    Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-10.35% (3.25% – 9.69% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.24% – 10.59% (4.24% – 9.93% APR). 

    Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.90% (3.75% – 9.68% APR). Fixed interest rates range from  5.22% – 10.14% (5.22% – 9.91% APR). 

    Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.35% (3.75% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.20% – 9.59% (5.20% – 9.39% APR).

    Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.02% (3.75% -8.98% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.18% – 9.26% (5.18% – 9.22% APR). 

    Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-9.21% (3.25% – 9.21% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.96%-9.50% (3.96%-9.50% APR).

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    Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 5.67%-9.17% (5.67% – 8.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.08% APR).

6 Important Disclosures for Funding U.

Funding U Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.