How Much You Have To Save for College by State [Study]

saving for college by state 1

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Across the U.S., saving for college is a major concern for parents and students. As tuition and room and board costs have continued to rise, the stress of saving up to help send your child to college is a widespread issue.

Student debt has expanded to wild proportions, and young professionals everywhere are starting their professional lives with tens of thousands of dollars in student-loan debt that they must make monthly payments on, to prevent the interest from continuing to pile up.

The landscape of college has changed in 2020 as students consider whether student loans are worth it for the privilege of virtual classes. However, it is likely that once students have the option to return to campus, those college savings will be put to use.

We wondered what college savings would need to look like based on where you live. To answer this question, we conducted a study based to find answers.


Using average college costs in each state as calculated by College Tuition Compare, our team was able to determine the total cost of a 4-year college by state for both public and private not-for-profit institutions, accounting for both in-state and out-of-state tuition.

Based on these calculations, we were able to calculate how much would need to be saved monthly in each state to send a child to college if parents started saving the day their child was born. We were also able to compare the monthly savings necessary to the average household income by state based on US Census Data.

Paying for 4 Years of Public, In-State College by State

It’s well known that one of the most affordable options for college is attending a public institution that provides an in-state tuition break. For many students who are focused on minimizing their debt while advancing their higher education, this is the best option for a four-year college experience that includes living on campus.

However, even with this more “cost-effective” option, the amount of money that must be saved monthly is extremely high for the average person.

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Based on the average monthly income in those states, Vermont and Pennsylvania require the highest percentage of people’s income to be put aside per month for 18 years. Over 7% of your paychecks would need to be set aside, per month, for 18 years to pay for a public 4-year, in-state college education.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wyoming required the lowest percentage of monthly income to be put aside to pay for in-state tuition. In fact, Wyoming is the only state in the U.S. that needs less than 4% of people’s monthly income to be saved for a public 4-year, in-state college education.

If you’re wondering how your state stacks up for public, in-state college costs, check out the interactive map below! You can see details for your state by hovering over it.

Paying for 4 Years of Public, Out-of-State College by State

Of course, for many students, branching out from where they grew up and attending a school in a different area is a major part of going to college. Public, out-of-state tuition is traditionally more expensive than in-state, which means that the savings percentage necessary is higher.

paying for 4 years of public out of state college 1

Vermont had the highest percentage of required monthly savings for a public 4-year, out-of-state college education. In fact, Vermont requires nearly 2% more monthly savings over 18 years, compared to Indiana and Rhode Island. Both Indiana and Rhode Island hover around 10% and came in 2nd and 3rd, respectively.

Again, if you want to know how your state stacks up, check out the interactive map below!

Paying for 4 Years of Private College by State

Private colleges tend to be the most expensive institutions to attend. They often represent schools with illustrious histories and major alumni networks that contribute to the mystique of attending.

paying for 4 years of private college

Saving for 4 years of private college is a much more daunting task. Vermont, again, required the highest percentage of monthly savings at 15.24% of the average monthly income for that state for 18 years. However, there was a much smaller margin between first and second place here, as Maine and Rhode Island both came in at 14% and 13% respectively.

The top 10 most expensive states for private college based on the percentage of monthly earnings all required over 11% of people’s earnings for 18 years, which is a massive undertaking for anyone.

However, Alaska, North Dakota, Utah, New Jersey, and Hawaii all only require about 6% of each respective state’s average income for 4 years of private college education.

To find out how your state’s private school costs compare, check out the map below! Note – Wyoming has no private, not-for-profit colleges, and therefore is not included in this dataset.

How Much You Need To Save to Go to College in the U.S.

While the state-by-state results are certainly compelling, the nationwide average of how much college costs and how much people must save is a very interesting representation of the overall expense of attending college in the United States.

savings needed for college in the US

On average, the least expensive 4-year college experience would be a public, in-state school and even that requires, on average, over $80,000 in savings. But, compared to the price tag of a private institution, $80,000 may sound like a steal.

A 4-year college education at a private institution costs, on average, nearly $150,000 and the percent of American’s monthly savings that would need to be put aside to pay for that kind of education is both substantial and in many cases, unattainable.

Final Thoughts

While some higher education options are certainly more cost-effective than others, the fact remains that attending a 4-year institution is a major expense for both parents and students.

Even with effective financial planning, financial aid options, and scholarships, the price tag of a college education has increased exponentially and places immense strain on anyone interested in furthering their education. However, by saving even a little each month, both parents and students can take steps towards funding their college education.

Awareness of the cost of college and how much your monthly savings must be to potentially fund your child’s education is a major part of understanding your personal financial situation.

By providing detailed information about credit cards and rewards programs, we work to help you get the most out of your necessary spending. To find out more about which credit card works best for your lifestyle, you can check out our credit card guides!

Alex Miller

About Alex Miller

Alex has been traveling for over 25 years and from a young age was lucky enough to set out on numerous family trips all over the world, which gave him the travel bug. Alex has since earned millions of travel points and miles, mainly through maximizing credit card sign-up bonuses and taking every opportunity to earn the most points possible on each dollar spent.

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