What college really costs–and how much should you save?

There's no getting around it. College is expensive. It may, however, cost less than you think.

While the price listed on a school’s website may be jaw-dropping, remember the published price is like the sticker price on a car. It doesn’t always reflect the true cost, which is referred to as the net price.

The net price is the sticker price minus any scholarships, need-based grants, or other types of financial aid a student receives and doesn't have to repay. When thinking about how much you may have to pay for your child's college education, try to focus on the net price.

Here are the average costs for 2020–2021, including tuition, fees, and room and board:


Public college, in-state student

Private college

Average sticker price



Average net price



Source: "Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2020" from The College Board.

How much to save

College costs can be daunting for a lot of people. One strategy that can make it less overwhelming is to set a savings goal. Perhaps it’s saving a percentage of the 4-year cost—maybe a third, or 33%—with the expectation that a combination of income during the college years and loans will cover the remainder.

Let's look at an example using that as the savings goal. We'll assume you have a 3-year-old daughter and haven't started saving for her college education. You expect she'll begin at age 18, so we'll estimate the cost of college 15 years from now.

Projected net college prices for a 3-year-old


Public college, in-state student

Private college

Average 4-year cost



33% saving goal



In this example, you'd be able to reach the public school goal by saving $129 a month. For the private college goal, you'd have to save $252 a month.

Source: Calculated using Vanguard's college savings planner. The average 4-year cost of college was calculated by using the average 2020-2021 net prices of $14,850 for a public college and $29,110 for a private college, and a cost increase of 5% annually. The monthly savings amounts are based on a 5% average rate of return on your savings. This is a hypothetical example and does not represent or predict the performance of any particular investment, and the rate is not guaranteed.

Save what you can

If saving over $100 a month isn’t realistic, save what you can. And remember—every dollar you can save is one less dollar your child will potentially have to borrow!

Investment returns are not guaranteed, and you could lose money by investing in the Direct Plan.

For more information about New York's 529 College Savings Program Direct Plan, download a Disclosure Booklet and Tuition Savings Agreement or request one by calling 877-NYSAVES (877-697-2837). This document includes investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other information. You should read and consider them carefully before investing. Before you invest, consider whether your or the beneficiary's home state offers any state tax or other benefits that are only available for investments in that state's 529 plan. Other state benefits may include financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors.

Tax and other benefits are contingent on meeting other requirements. We encourage account owners to consult a qualified tax advisor.

The Comptroller of the State of New York and the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation are the Program Administrators and are responsible for implementing and administering the Direct Plan.

Ascensus Broker Dealer Services, LLC, serves as Program Manager and, in connection with its affiliates, provides recordkeeping and administrative support services and is responsible for day-to-day operations of the Direct Plan. The Vanguard Group, Inc., serves as the Investment Manager. Vanguard Marketing Corporation provides marketing and distribution services to the Direct Plan.

No guarantee:None of the State of New York, its agencies, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), The Vanguard Group, Inc., Ascensus Broker Dealer Services, LLC, nor any of their applicable affiliates insures accounts or guarantees the principal deposited therein or any investment returns on any account or investment portfolio.

New York's 529 College Savings Program currently includes two separate 529 plans. The Direct Plan is sold directly by the Program. You may also participate in the Advisor-Guided Plan, which is sold exclusively through financial advisors and has different investment options and higher fees and expenses as well as financial advisor compensation.

© 2021 New York's 529 College Savings Program Direct Plan.