Gen Zs Focus on Career Paths and Cost Savings in Pursuit of Higher Ed says New Survey by College Savings Foundation

May 22, 2019

High school students realize saving is key to funding higher education

Today’s high school students are career-focused and cost-conscious about their decisions to choose and fund higher education, according to the findings of The College Savings Foundation’s (CSF) 10th Annual How Youth Plan to Fund College Survey. The survey gathered responses from sophomores, juniors and seniors across the country that depict a generation taking a practical and responsible approach to the future.

The survey found that the costs of college loom large for students. 83% of respondents said costs are a factor in deciding which college to attend – up from 75% last year; and for 71%, costs are a factor on whether to attend college at all, an increase from 65% last year. Career choices are also very influential, with 71% of students saying their career plans would affect their school choice – up from 63% last year.

“Gen Z students are thinking ahead to both the careers they want to pursue and what kind of education they will need to get there. We are pleased to see that this pragmatic approach also extends to their saving,” said Richard J. Polimeni, Chair of CSF, a leading nonprofit helping American families save for higher education.

The Role of Saving for Students and Families

Overall, students understand the need to save for their higher education costs with 44% responding that they are saving. Of the 44% saving:

  • 17% said that 529 college savings plans are their primary way of saving
  • 61% have saved more than $1,000 to date; and 21% have saved more than $5,000.

54% of all students said their parents are saving for them to attend college, and of those, 27% said the primary way their parents are saving is through 529 plans. 60% of all parents who are saving have amassed more than $5,000, and 36% have saved more than $15,000.

48% of students expect to receive money for education from relatives, and of that, 21% of students said that relatives are saving in a 529 college savings plan for them.

“This is consistent with trends we have been seeing where grandparents and other family members have been helping to save and assist with a grandchild’s or other loved one’s education,” says Polimeni.

69% of all students said they would rather receive money for education on special occasions than tangible gifts.

Funding A Practical Path to Higher Education

When it comes to funding their higher education, 69% of students said they will pay or possibly pay for part or all of their college costs.

Most students, 84%, are also talking to their parents about their parents’ involvement in funding higher education – conversations reflecting a focus on career and cost considerations. Nearly half of all students, 47%, said their primary conversation with parents is about the career path they want to follow. The next most popular choice (26%) is the type of school they want to go to – public, private or community.

With student debt reaching $1.5 trillion, students’ concerns about costs are reflected in their choice of higher education: 40% of students said they would attend public college and 26% said community college. Interestingly, at a total of 12%, technical and career education (10%) and apprenticeship programs (2%), were nearly as popular as private college (13%).

Continuing an upward trend, 55% think of a technical and career education or apprenticeship programs in the same way that they think about college – the highest level in the survey’s history since this question has been asked.

The role of technical skills is likewise prominent in longer-term education plans. 30% of all students expect to go to graduate school, and the next most popular response was 23% saying they would pursue certification around career skills.

Ways to Tackle Costs and Reduce Debt

In a new question this year, when asked what their primary action would be to reduce reliance on student loans, the greatest percentage of students, 23%, said they would save more money; 19% said they would attend a community college; 15% said they would attend an in-state school, and 15% said they would live at home.

To help with costs, almost all students (89%) said they would work full- or part-time during college. Half already have jobs during high school. Work is also a priority for the 19% of students who are choosing a gap year; 66% of them will be using the year to work.

In another way to cut costs, 58% of students overall say they would live at home while attending college.

54% of all students expect to receive financial aid, and most students are aware that financial aid packages often include student loans. Students who plan to borrow money outside their aid package dropped to 46% from 65% last year.

68% of all students are concerned about paying back their student loans, and 60% of all students expect to be paying them back for up to10 years.

The 2019 How Youth Plan to Fund College survey reached over 500 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors across the country via Survey Monkey. The College Savings Foundation (CSF) is a Washington, D.C.- based not-for-profit organization helping American families achieve their education savings goals. Learn more and see an Infographic on the survey at