Life Insurance
Insurance 101
Live Chat
Sign In
Apply Now
Modern Family Finances

How to Get Kids Involved in Saving for College

By Jessica Sillers Mar 21, 2023

In this article

1. Choose Colleges Together

2. Encourage Them to Pursue Their Talents

3. Apply for Scholarships

4. Work a Summer Job

5. Get Your Kid Involved in Saving Early

I was in middle school when I visited a college campus for the first time. Afterward, I wrote “College Fund” on a shoebox and hid it in my room to save up my own nest egg.

Enthusiastic as I was, I’m glad my parents had a more coordinated plan to help me prepare. Your child isn’t limited to contributing to college from their allowance (which comes out of your wallet anyway). 

Whether or not you’ll rely on your child to help afford college costs, saving for college together can be a great opportunity to impart some financial wisdom and teach life skills. Here’s how to include them in the conversation.

1. Choose Colleges Together

There are varied pathways to affording a college education. The type of college experience your child is dreaming of will affect your financial preparations. If your child is hoping to enroll in a four-year, private college, you’ll need a different strategy than if your child plans to apply to public, in-state colleges.

Average tuition and fees in the 2020-2021 academic year were $9,400 at public 4-year institutions, and $37,600 at private nonprofit colleges. More than 83 percent of students receive financial aid, so the sticker price doesn’t tell the full story, but you can still get a sense of how far your contribution may go toward covering costs.

Start college conversations early (middle school is a great time to start). Encourage your child to think about their ideal college experience, and explain what your family can offer. Maybe you can cover 75 percent of expenses at a public college, but you’d need to rely on student loans to send your child to a private college. If your child is dreaming of a private college (e.g., to study in a specialized program), you can start conversations about cost-saving measures. For example, you might lessen the overall cost through scholarships or planning to attend a year of community college for general education requirements.

2. Encourage Them to Pursue Their Talents

While your child can (and probably should) earn some money through babysitting or part-time jobs, a kid’s main “job” is learning and developing their talents. Doing well in school and extracurriculars can also contribute to college in several ways:

  • A strong GPA, athletic record or extracurricular achievements can reflect well on college applications and give your child more choices.

  • Your child may qualify for more merit-based scholarships.

  • Your child may be better positioned to find (and apply for) private scholarships based on special interests and talents.

Talk with your child about how their passions may play into their choice of college. For example, if your child is striving to reach a prestigious music school or play a Division 1 sport, they may narrow down their list of schools early (and give you a sense of what aid you might need to cover tuition). Your child can also search for scholarships based on hobbies, which award money for musical theater songwriting, hiking, photography and more.

3. Apply for Scholarships

You don’t need to pay back scholarships, so these are an ideal form of aid, but roughly $100 million in scholarships goes unclaimed each year. Often, it’s because students didn’t apply.

You don’t need a perfect GPA to win a scholarship. Scholarships focusing on athletic or musical ability, leadership skills, a moving essay, specific areas of study and more are available locally or nationally. Some scholarships are open to students as young as 14.

Nationally, students may qualify for as much as $3.75 billion in Pell Grants that they never claim because they haven’t filled out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA should be an essential part of your family’s process as you prepare your child to choose a college.

Your child can apply for scholarship money all through high school, and especially as they begin their college search. Have them take some ownership over their own college costs by being the point person on some of the scholarship work:

  • Search for eligible scholarships through local and state government agencies. Fastweb is a good resource, and you can also start by looking up your state page to find scholarships for students in your area. Students who are low income, academically talented or part of marginalized groups may find special classes of state scholarship.

  • Search for career-based scholarships offered by companies to students interested in pursuing a specific major (e.g., nursing).

  • Search for “scholarship” plus keywords for an interest (e.g., writing, gaming) or identity (e.g., immigrant) that applies to you.

Make a realistic plan with your child. How many scholarships will your child apply to each year? Use a planner to track deadlines and stay organized in preparing materials, like essays.

4. Work a Summer Job

About 30 percent of teens age 16-19 worked summer jobs in 2020, and nearly as many work during the rest of the year. Taking on a job, or even earning money through babysitting or other gig work, can help your child save a college nest egg.

For the 2022-2023 FAFSA, a dependent student can earn up to $7,040 as “protected” income, meaning it won’t factor into the expected family contribution (EFC) for financial aid. If your child makes more than this, it may be a better financial move to save these excess earnings in a parent-owned 529 account. Colleges may calculate about 20 percent of the “unprotected” funds in your child’s name against financial aid but a smaller percentage of 529 funds. 

Talk about whether they will work summers or throughout the year, and what percent of their income should go toward college costs and what percent they can spend now. Set expectations for what feel reasonable for your child to cover with their side job income. Will your child pay for textbooks and entertainment, or be responsible for larger expenses, like a meal plan?

5. Get Your Kid Involved in Saving Early

As your child reaches high school, you don’t need to dig into your financial worries with them but you can explain how external factors like a recession can make good money habits even more important. If you give your child a good financial education now, they may be more ready to use their savings responsibly when they get on campus.

Set savings goals and expectations that work for your family. You might expect your student to cover textbooks and transportation, or to work enough to pay for their own meal plan. As they’re saving in high school, this can be a great time to entrust your child with more mature responsibilities and find incentives to reward their success. A few ideas include:

  • Give your child “bills”: Either real expenses (e.g., paying fees for class trips or new clothes above a basic budget) or practice “bills” (e.g., “rent” payments that you keep for your child in a separate savings account for the future).

  • Practice budgeting: Many schools don’t teach personal finance, so your child will probably rely on you to learn the basics about credit or budgeting. Building this skill helps your child save for college and also gives them a better framework to understand how you determine what colleges you can afford.

  • Offer a savings match: Saving money can be a slow process. If you’re able to match your child’s savings or offer a “bonus” for reaching a milestone, that can be a powerful motivation to stay on track.

In my case, my family encouraged me to apply for scholarships and save money from summer jobs to cover textbooks (in a bank account, not a shoebox). I also took a campus job as part of my financial aid. Many families can put together their own combination of ways their teen can play an active role in preparing financially for college.

Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

Fabric by Gerber Life exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

Information provided is general and educational in nature and is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, financial, legal, or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. We make no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use, and disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information.

Fabric by Gerber Life offers a mobile experience for people on-the-go who want an easy and fast way to purchase life insurance.

Written by

Jessica Sillers

Related Posts

Modern Family Finances

A Parent’s Guide to UGMA Custodial Accounts

UGMA accounts are custodial accounts you can use to save money or build investments for your child. Learn UGMA limits and advantages to see how this could fit into your savings plans.

By Jessica Sillers
Modern Family Finances

The New Parent's Financial Checklist: Life Insurance and More

When you have a baby, there’s a lot to consider. Now's the time to focus on your financial priorities. Here's where to get started.

By Allison Kade
Modern Family Finances

When Do We Feel Like an Adult? New Survey Shares ‘Signs’ of Adulting

Top signs of “adulting” include saving money, doing taxes, and signing up for life insurance, according to Fabric’s new research. Read on for more surprising insights.

By Allison Kade

Fabric Picks

Life Insurance

Why Women Need Life Insurance — But Aren’t Getting It

The life insurance gender gap shows that women are less likely to have the coverage they need than men. Explore reasons and ways to close the gap.

By Jessica Sillers
Life Insurance

What It Means to Surrender a Life Insurance Policy—and How to Know If It’s Right for You

If you have a permanent life insurance policy that has a cash value, you might be considering surrendering your policy as a source of cash. That’s a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

By Jacqui Kenyon
Life Insurance

Types of Life Insurance, as Explained by Mom's Favorite TV Shows

Learning about life insurance doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Here’s how our favorite TV shows help us understand the types of life insurance.

By Jessica Sillers
Fabric by Gerber Life Logo

About Fabric




Download Fabric’s iOS mobile app through the Apple App Store
Download Fabric’s android mobile app through the Google Play app store

© 2023 Gerber Life Agency, LLC

Term Life Insurance Policy Series ICC22 2205-4004 WSA and Accelerated Death Benefit Rider policy series ICC22 2205-2623 WSA (and state variations where applicable) issued by Western-Southern Life Assurance Company, Cincinnati, OH which operates in DC and all states except NY, and distributed by Gerber Life Agency, LLC using Fabric Technologies. Gerber Life Agency, LLC is an affiliate of Gerber Life Insurance Company (est. 1967). All are members of Western & Southern Financial Group (Western & Southern). Issuance of coverage for Term Life Insurance is subject to underwriting review and approval. Please see a copy of the policy for the full terms, conditions and exclusions. Product provisions, availability, definitions and benefits may vary by state. Payment of benefits under the life insurance policy is the obligation of, and is guaranteed by, the issuing company. Guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuer. Products are backed by the full financial strength of the issuing company.

All sample pricing is based on a 30-year old F in Excellent health for the coverage amount shown and a 10-year term policy, unless otherwise stated. Gerber Life Agency, LLC (GLA) is an insurance agency licensed to sell life insurance products. GLA will receive compensation from Western-Southern Life Assurance Company for such sales. The NAIC Company Code for Western-Southern Life Assurance Company is 92622.

Western-Southern Life Assurance Company's A+ Superior A.M. Best Rating: Superior ability to meet ongoing insurance obligations (second highest of 13 ratings; rating held since June 2009). Ratings are subject to change from time to time. The ratings shown here are correct as of 09/03/2022. For more information about a particular rating or rating agency, please visit the website of the relevant agency.

Plan like a parent. is a trademark of Fabric Technologies, Inc.

Gerber Life is a registered trademark. Used under license from Société des Produits Nestlé S.A. and Gerber Products Company.

In the State of California, Gerber Life Agency, LLC is known as and does business as Gerber Life Insurance Agency, LLC.