Graduates Advise Saving Early for College Costs

Although two-thirds (66%) of the Class of 2011 who are graduating with debt say the value of college is worth the cost, one-quarter say they would have made different choices if they had thought more about potential future debt.

According to the Fidelity Cost-Conscious College Graduates Survey, this sentiment is even higher for graduates from the Classes of 2009 and 2010, with nearly 40% responding that they would have made different choices to lessen the amount of debt they accrued.  

A key lesson college graduates suggested for high school students in preparing for the cost of college is to save early, according to a release of survey results. One-third of those in the Class of 2011 report having a dedicated college savings account, but a larger number reported having no college savings (44%), which could account for the high debt levels.  

Graduates who had saved in advance for college were able to cover more than half (52%) of their college costs. Those who had not saved from all of the classes surveyed had an average of $56,000 in debt and were significantly less likely to believe that their college experience had prepared them well for getting a job.  

“While these recent graduates may not have made the decisions regarding their own college savings, 56% of them said they would ‘definitely’ open a dedicated college savings account for their children,” said Joe Ciccariello, vice president, Fidelity Investments College Planning, in the announcement. “That number climbed to 70% for those graduates who had savings, indicating how much they valued their parents’ advanced planning.” 

Forty percent of all graduates who had saved for college reported that their families had worked with a financial adviser to help prepare for the cost. These families were three times as likely to have 529 College Savings Plans and carried 20% less debt than the average graduate.  

The survey reveals that among the Class of 2011:

  • 61% have government loans with an average debt of $16,800;
  • 32% have private loans with an average debt of $14,200;
  • 37% have credit card debt on average of $3,600; and
  • 17% have other debt (e.g. family loans) averaging $5,300.

An online survey among a national sample of 549 college graduates was conducted by ORC International, an independent research firm, from April 1 - April 7, 2011. Of the total sample surveyed, 250 students graduated in 2011 and 299 graduated in 2009 and 2010.