New Common App for Colleges Goes Online This Weekend

University of California Berkely campus
Feargus Cooney—Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image University of California Berkely campus

This year's Common Application has some significant changes students should know about.

Summertime may still be in full swing, but rising high school seniors take note: College application season starts—unofficially—this weekend.

The Common Application, accepted by more than 600 colleges and universities, will be available on Saturday. Sixty-nine new colleges joined the nonprofit consortium of schools for the upcoming year.

The Common App was created more than three decades ago to simplify the application process by allowing students to answer a single core set of questions, including essays, for multiple colleges. Last year, 857,000 students submitted more than 3.7 million applications.

Everything You Need to Know About Planning for College

This year’s Common App has a number of changes. For example, not all colleges will require an essay and teacher recommendation in their application. Officials say the website will make clear which colleges require essays and that students will still have the option to submit essays to all colleges.

Applicants also will see a new writing prompt intended to make them demonstrate analytical reasoning and intellectual curiosity. The new essay asks students to describe a problem they’ve solved (or would like to solve) and how they went about doing it.

Although the application is common, the deadlines aren’t. Each school sets its own, but in general, regular admissions applications come due in January, and the Common App website tells you the deadline for each school you’re applying to.

For advice on applying to and paying for college, including how to make your application stand out, check out MONEY’s College Planner.

Read next: MONEY’s Ranking of the Best Colleges in the U.S.

MONEY College

Will a Trust Fund Mess Up Our Financial Aid?

Ask the Expert - Family Finance illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: My father has put money into a trust for my daughter; she gets access to it in November 2015, when she will be a senior in high school. How will this affect her financial aid for college in 2016? Should we put the money into our name? — Sheila B., Maryland

A: Trust funds must be reported as an asset on the FAFSA; as a result, this will likely hurt your daughter’s financial aid eligibility.

That’s because financial assets belonging to a student have a far greater impact on financial aid than parent-owned assets do, says financial adviser Fred Amrein, author of Financial Aid and Beyond: Secrets to College Affordability. Colleges expect a family to use 20% of a dependent child’s funds each year to pay for college, Amreim says, while parents are only expected to use 5.6% of their own assets to pay for college expenses. So for example: If your daughter is the sole beneficiary and the total amount held in the trust is $25,000, her aid eligibility would be reduced by $5,000.

And there’s a double whammy: Annual income from the account must also be reported as part of your daughter’s income on the FASFA form. This could reduce her aid eligibility by as much as 50% of the amount of income.

If your daughter cannot access the funds within the trust until a later date — when she is 30, for instance, or after her grandfather passes away — Amrein says you can make an argument to the financial aid office that those unavailable trust assets should not be factored into the aid equation. But there is no guarantee this will work, because each college’s aid office uses its own discretion.

As for whether to move the funds into your name: It may not even be possible, depending on the type of trust and the wording of the documents. But even before you go through the hassle of attempting it, Amreim suggests, calculate your Expected Family Contribution to see if your income and assets as a parent are already too great to qualify for financial need. (You’ll also need to know the cost of the schools your daughter will be applying to.)

If so, it won’t matter what assets are in the child’s name, he says.

For more information on how your assets will impact your financial aid, see our Saving for College guide.

MONEY College

6 Things Every Parent Should Know About 529 College Savings Plans

Henrik Sorensen—Getty Images

Earnings on 529s are tax-free, so long as you use them for qualified expenses.

If you’re saving for your child’s higher education, you probably have a lot of questions besides “When did college get so incredibly expensive?” One popular savings tool that might puzzle you the most is the relatively new 529 plan. Here are the most popular questions.

The 529 college savings plan – begun in the late 1980s and now operated by states or educational institutions – offers tax-advantaged ways to save for various costs of higher education. What else should you know?

Common questions I hear from my clients:

What can my child use 529 money for? The money can pay for qualified expenses such as tuition, fees, books, supplies, computer-related costs and room and board for someone who is at least a half-time student. Pizza, burritos and beer don’t qualify, unfortunately.

How much can I contribute? The answer is not as straightforward as with an individual retirement account or 401(k) retirement plan. Generally, contributions to a 529 max out at $350,000 per beneficiary.

You also need to remember federal gifting tax laws. A gift of more than $14,000 to a single person in one year incurs gift tax. A 529 allows an individual to potentially contribute up to $70,000 (married couples up to $140,000) tax-free in one year to an account for a particular beneficiary.

To do this, you elect to treat the entire gift as a series of five equal annual gifts when you file Internal Revenue Service Form 709, “Gift and Generation-Skipping Transfer” with your annual tax return. The IRS can tell you more.

There are no age or income restrictions to contribute.

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What if our relatives want to contribute? Family members can either open a 529 account and name your child as the beneficiary or kick into an existing 529 that they don’t own.

If your family members contribute to a 529 account that they do own, they receive a state tax benefit if their state offers such a deduction. Opening just one account for the beneficiary and letting your family help fund it can be simpler.

Why use a 529 over a regular taxable account? These accounts defer taxes; your contributions grow tax-free as long as you use the funds on the qualified expenses mentioned above.

This beats paying the government for an after-tax account – but the latter does offer complete flexibility on where and how you can spend the money. A 529 doesn’t.

What if my child gets a full scholarship? You will not lose money.

You can withdraw from the 529 without penalty, though you do pay taxes on the earnings at the scholarship recipient’s tax rate. You can also use your 529 to pay for expenses that the scholarship doesn’t cover, such as room and board, books and other required supplies.

You can keep the 529 open with your child as beneficiary if he or she plans on graduate school, or you can also change the beneficiary and name another college-bound child.

What if my child does not want to go to college? You can change the beneficiary to another family member (a sibling, first cousin, grandparent, aunt, uncle or yourself, for example), and the money goes toward that person’s education. Most plans allow you to change your beneficiary only once a year; if your child has a change of heart and does decide to attend college, you can rename that child the beneficiary.

Remember too that these funds can help pay for two-year associate degrees, as well as for trade and vocational schools.

A final option: Withdraw the money, or cash out the plan. You pay income tax and a 10% penalty on the earnings, but not on your contributions.

If unsure that your child is in fact headed to college, sit tight on cashing out. One thing you learn fast about young adults: Life can always change.

Andrew Comstock, CFA, is president and chief investment officer of Castlebar Asset Management in Leawood, Kan.

More From AdviceIQ:

Check out MONEY’s 2015-16 Best Colleges rankings


10 Liberal Arts Schools Where Grads Earn the Most

You don't have to be a business major or an engineer to make a good salary right out of college.

We all know the tired cliché of the liberal arts graduate: the starving artist, the unemployed classics major, the English graduate who’s waiting tables. They’re exaggerations and stereotypes, to be sure. And yet, employment and salary data consistently show holders of liberal arts degrees toward the bottom of the pay scale for college graduates.

Supporters of liberal arts colleges argue that salaries don’t tell the whole story. The liberal arts teach students skills that will benefit them in a variety of careers, such as how to reason and write, they say. Plus, a report last year found that liberal arts majors tend to close the salary gap after several years in the workforce. And if nothing else, the liberal arts pay off in an intellectual way, making the “inside of your head an interesting place to spend the rest of your life,” as one former college president puts it.

But what if you don’t want to choose one or the other—an interesting internal life or a comfortable paycheck? Here are the liberal arts schools in MONEY’s Best Colleges rankings where graduates report the highest average salaries within five years of graduation, according to

  • 10. Colgate University

    Ashlee Eve&mdash— Colgate University

    Average early career earnings: $52,900

    MONEY Best Colleges rank: 34

    Location: Hamilton, N.Y.

    Read more about Colgate.

  • 9. Virginia Military Institute

    Kevin Remington—Virginia Military Institute

    Average early career earnings: $53,400

    MONEY Best Colleges rank: 48

    Location: Lexington, Va.

    Read more about VMI.

  • 8. Washington and Lee University

    courtesy of Washington & LeeWashington and Lee University

    Average early career earnings: $53,700

    MONEY Best Colleges rank: 24

    Location: Lexington, Va.

    Read more about W&L.

  • 7. Hamilton College

    Hamilton College
    Bob Handelman

    Average early career earnings: $54,500

    MONEY Best Colleges rank: 41

    Location: Clinton, N.Y.

    Read more about Hamilton.

  • 6. Hampden-Sydney College

    courtesy Hampden-Sydney College

    Average early career earnings: $55,300

    MONEY Best Colleges rank: 158

    Location: Hampden-Sydney, Va.

    Read more about Hampden-Sydney.

  • 5. Claremont McKenna College

    Anais & Dax—courtesy of Claremont McKenna College

    Average early career earnings: $55,500

    MONEY Best Colleges rank: 19

    Location: Claremont, Calif.

    Read more about CMC.

  • 4. Amherst College

    courtesy OfficeAmherst College

    Average early career earnings: $55,700

    MONEY Best Colleges rank: 9

    Location: Amherst, Mass.

    Read more about Amherst.

  • 3. Bucknell University

    Laurie JacksonBucknell University

    Average early career earnings: $56,000

    MONEY Best Colleges rank: 37

    Location: Lewisburg, Pa.

    Read more about Bucknell.

  • 2. Lafayette College

    Chuck ZovkoLafayette College

    Average early career earnings: $56,800

    MONEY Best Colleges rank: 54

    Location: Easton, Pa.

    Read more about Lafayette.

  • 1. Harvey Mudd College

    Edward CarreonHarvey Mudd College

    Average early career earnings: $76,400

    MONEY Best Colleges rank: 6

    Location: Claremont, Calif.

    Read more about Harvey Mudd.

MONEY College

Why Bank Accounts Are Better Than Credit Cards for College Kids

ShutterWorx—Getty Images

Teens with checking accounts are better prepared to handle their finances than ones with access to plastic.

If you want your college student to learn money management skills, get him or her a checkbook instead of a credit card.

In fact, a recent survey of 42,000 first-year college students found that the earlier teenagers had access to credit cards, the less prepared they felt for managing their own money in college.

Those who had checking accounts, by contrast, were “markedly more prepared” to handle their finances than those who were unbanked before college, according to the study conducted by education technology company EverFi and sponsored by financial services company Higher One.

The findings match up with the experience of Janet Bodnar. The editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and mother of three college graduates sees credit cards for college students as dangerous and unnecessary.

Young people need to have finite amounts of money to learn essential skills such as budgeting and monitoring their accounts, said Bodnar, author of the book “Raising Money Smart Kids.”

Ideally, students would start with a checking account in high school to manage income from their first jobs. Children who are not spending their own money often have a flexible definition of what constitutes a financial crisis, Bodnar said.

“An emergency is needing a dress for the sorority dance, or picking up the check for everyone at the pizza place because nobody has any money,” she said. “You think of plastic … as a convenience. Kids think of it as a direct line to your wallet.”

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Plastic Cautions

Personal finance columnist Kathy Kristof, who also writes for Kiplinger’s and who has sent two children to college, is on the other side of the fence. She thinks a credit card can make sense for some families.

“For parents who know their kids and have taught them how to handle money, it can make your life easier,” Kristof said.

College students typically can qualify for their own credit cards, without a parent co-signing or any credit history, when they turn 21.

If parents want to help a child build a credit history before then, they can add him or her to one of their own credit cards as an “authorized user.” (Parents should call and ask the issuer if it will export their account history to the child’s credit report, since some will only do so for a spouse.)

Kristof gave cards to both children, one a college graduate and the other still a student, to book flights home and cover emergencies.

“I’m happy to have the kids as authorized users because I can see what they’re doing and rip the card out of their hot little hands if they abuse it,” Kristof said.

So far, her daughter has always checked in before using the card. Her son, however, will sometimes use it without asking but will tell Kristof and pay her back before the bill arrives.

Kristof said she would not let her progeny get a credit card if she could not see the bills. Even a responsible college student can get distracted and forget to check the balance or make an on-time payment.

Just one skipped payment can devastate credit scores.

“What you don’t want to do,” Kristof said, “is put your kid in a situation where they could get credit dings before life really has gotten started.”

Bodnar cautioned that students who run through all their money should have to make a case to their parents about why they need more, not an excuse for what they already spent using a credit card.

“If they really need money, there are plenty of ways to get it to them fast,” Bodnar said, such as bank transfers or a system like PayPal or Venmo.
Check out MONEY’s 2015-16 Best Colleges rankings

MONEY College

5 Pricey Ways Parents Pay to Get Their Kids Get Ahead

Chris Schmidt—Getty Images Private tutors can cost $25 to $50 an hour.

From private tutors to foreign language immersion programs, there are plenty of elite services for students.

There’s probably little you won’t do to help your kids succeed—short of running the bases for them at a Little League game, or writing their admissions essays.

Who doesn’t want to make sure the odds are in their favor when it comes to college and their subsequent careers?

But when you’re juggling one too many financial priorities, you can’t always afford Saturday math camps and private tutors—unless you go into debt helping junior keep up with the Joneses’ kids.

From preschool admissions coaches (you heard right!) to foreign language immersion classes, we’ve rounded up five popular ways parents pay big bucks to give their kids an educational advantage to see if these perks are really worth the money.

The Skinny on Preschool Admissions Coaches

Yes, some preschools have become so competitive that you need an outsider to help your toddler make the grade.

In some cases, parents are dishing out $200 to $400 an hour to have preschool admissions coaches help them demystify a vetting process that can rival those of Ivy League schools—think 13-page applications, personal essays, reference letters and screening tests.

So Is It Worth It? Only if you’re a big-city dweller who can’t make heads or tails of your Montessoris from your Waldorfs.

That’s because major metro areas—like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York—are struggling with the perfect educational storm of shrinking resources for public preschool programs, and private schools that work hard to restrict class size.

The result? Long wait lists—or outright rejections—for getting into your top pick preschool.

“[The need for a preschool admissions coach] shouldn’t exist. But once you are in a place like Manhattan, for a lot of people, it can be very helpful,” says Emily Shapiro, who was a nursery school director for 15 years before becoming an independent admissions consultant. “I don’t think everyone needs to hire one, but if you’re spending between $20,000 and $30,000 for preschool, it makes sense to be sure your children are in the right place.”

How to Get the Best Bang for Your Educational Buck: Not all parents need the full slate of a coach’s services—in many cases an initial consultation is enough to point you in the right direction.

To make the most of that session, Shapiro suggests bringing a comprehensive list of burning questions, such as what an “interview” with a one-year-old looks like, and whether you really need to start the process before your child is even born. (Short answer: no.)

“Some people hear all this buzz on the street, and suddenly there’s a lot of anxiety,” Shapiro says. “But all they need is a reality check and information to know what’s true and not true. For those people, one meeting may be enough.”

The Skinny on Foreign Language Immersion Programs

We’ve come a long way from waiting to intro kids to bilingualism with Spanish 101 in high school.

Over the past 20 years, language immersion programs—classes in which kids spend all or part of their time learning a second language—have skyrocketed.

In 1991 the Center for Applied Linguistics, a language-education nonprofit, recorded 119 public and private immersion programs in the U.S. By 2011 that number hit 448.

Today there are even immersion kiddie classes on the docket at day cares and nursery schools. So even if your child just started saying “Mommy,” they can also learn how to say Maman, Mutti or Mãe before enrolling in elementary school.

So Is It Worth It? Yes. Numerous studies have shown that bilingual children have an advantage when it comes to problem solving, abstract thinking, switching between tasks and sustained attention—not to mention the benefit of being exposed to different cultures and traditions.

“The research now is even more compelling about the importance of starting language early,” says Nancy Rhodes, a senior foreign language consultant at the Center for Applied Linguistics. “If children are exposed to the sound of other languages at a very young age, it will be easier for them to speak them later. Plus, we’re trying to get young children in the U.S. to compete globally.”

How to Get the Best Bang for Your Educational Buck: You don’t have to spring for full-on immersive preschools—which can run upwards of $20,000 annually—to get the second language benefits.

Depending on your location, lower key offerings can run less than $200 a month, like weekly parents-and-tots language classes at a franchise such as Language Stars.

The Skinny on After-school Tutoring

If you were the child of a Tiger Mom, chances are you may have spent your afternoons doing algebra in a tutoring center instead of running around the playground.

Many parents swear by programs like Kumon, in which children supplement their school learning with after-school sessions that drill them in math and reading—with classes costing between $100–$120 for a single subject, not including enrollment fees.

But how much good does all this added academic time really do?

So Is It Worth It? It depends on your child’s learning style, and whether your kid is struggling to grasp certain subjects. “If your kid needs more drilling, then that kind of support is a benefit,” says Stacy Zanine, a gifted-support educator for the Souderton Area School District in Pennsylvania.

But keep in mind that a program focused on teaching through repetition may not do much to improve critical thinking skills.

“The kids I know who have participated in Kumon haven’t done anything negative—but it hasn’t helped them with problem solving,” explains Zanine. “And I think colleges and companies are focused on problem-solving skills, not just calculating.”

How to Get the Best Bang for Your Educational Buck: To give kids more well-rounded academic enrichment, Zanine recommends focusing on a variety of educational experiences—such as exposing them to museums, food tours and other cultural events, in addition to flash cards and multiplication tables.

“Give them experiences. If they love reading, for example, have them join a book club,” Zanine says. “You’ll get so much more [out of] that.”

The Skinny on SAT/ACT Prep

That perfect 2,400 SAT score is hard to come by. Fact: According to the College Board, only .02% of students will likely achieve it.

But that doesn’t stop parents from paying a pretty penny to get as close to that plum score as possible, shelling out anywhere from $700 to $3,500 for courses at test-prep outlets like the Princeton Review, Kaplan and TestMasters.

So Is It Worth It? Yes—but it depends on your expectations, and your kid’s efforts.

No conclusive research has shown that test prep will guarantee a score boost in the hundreds of points—as is often claimed in ads—but a 20- to 30-point bump is realistic.

And that may be worth the money if it pushes your child into the threshold of qualifying for their school of choice, or enables your kid to receive more merit-based financial aid.

Another big factor? Your child’s motivation.

“When we put together a test-prep plan [for our clients], that may mean referring SAT tutors, but the students have to buy in,” says Betsy Morgan, owner of educational consulting firm College Matters, LLC. “If they are not motivated to do it, then you are absolutely wasting your money.”

How to Get the Best Bang for Your Educational Buck: There are plenty of free sites online that offer good test-prep resources, says Morgan, who and

The Khan Academy, in particular, has partnered with the College Board to create prep work for the redesigned SAT that goes live in March 2016.

The Skinny on College Admissions Consultants

Yes, the price of tuition keeps climbing, but colleges are also more competitive than ever. In 2015, schools like Stanford and Harvard saw their acceptance rates dip to new lows, with both hovering around the 5% mark.

And that leaves many worried parents scrambling to ensure their kids get into the right college by paying more than $4,000 to hire college admissions consultants.

For some parents, that’s an investment worth making, considering how overwhelmed most public school guidance counselors are: The average counselor manages an average of 471 students!

So Is It Worth It? Maybe—if you need help finding the right academic, social and financial match.

For instance, a college admissions consultant can not only help you find a school that fits your child’s personality, and walk you through financial aid options, but she may also be able to figure out which schools your child falls into the top 25% academically.

And that could bump up her chances of receiving merit-based scholarships, says Louise Evans, a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) and associate at financial services firm The Vermont Agency.

Plus, finding a school where your student is happy from the get-go can save you money in the long run.

“The national transfer rate is over 50%, and very few of my kids have transferred,” Morgan says. “I like to think it’s because they’ve ended up at the right schools in the first place. Transferring can be very expensive.”

How to Get the Best Bang for Your Educational Buck: “A lot of consultants just do the admissions side and others just do the financial side, so I would find someone who knows how to do both,” suggests Evans. “That’s how you’ll get the best value.”

More From LearnVest:


MONEY Best colleges

How to Get Into an Elite College

It's more than just hard work and good grades.

Elite colleges like Pomona College and the Ivies look for several things in incoming students, grades and test scores among them. But it’ll take more than just straight As to get into an elite school.

Passion. Students should have a passion for something. Colleges want people who are unique in some way and can contribute to on-campus community.

Academic qualifications. Have you taken the most challenging courses and pushed yourself?

Grittiness. Have you overcome obstacles? Admissions officers love an underdog story.

Communication. How well do you write; how well do you speak? Play to your strengths.

Check out MONEY’s 2015-16 Best Colleges rankings

TIME College

Parents Are Shelling Out More Money For Kids to Attend College

Proposed Budget Cuts Threaten Funding For California Universities
David McNew—Getty Images Students go about their business at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

More financing from the Bank of Mom and Dad

Parents opened their wallets more generously in the 2014-2015 school year, a report shows, reclaiming their place as the primary source of college funding for the first time since 2010.

Parental income and savings now cover 32% of college costs, surpassing scholarships and grants as the largest share of college funding, according to the How American Pays for College 2015 survey, released by Sallie Mae. The percentage of college funding contributed by parents’ savings and income had hovered at and below 30% since it nosedived from 37% in 2010.

Parents are paying more for college in part because it’s costing more. The amount that families spent on college rose to an average of $24,164 this year — a 16% gain from $20,882 in 2014.

But the increased wallet-opening isn’t just linked to rising tuition. Parents are less worried about a volatile economy impacting their ability to pay for college. Only 17% of parents reported extreme concern that losing a job would impact their income, compared to 23% in 2014. In 2015, 62% of families eliminated potential colleges because of the cost, down from 68% in 2014 and the lowest percentage since 2009. The financial worries of parents — which were at record levels in 2010 as loan rates rose and the value of savings diminished — had eased significantly by 2015. Whereas a quarter of parents in 2010 recorded “extreme worry” about college costs because they were concerned about the value of their homes, only 6% said the same in 2015.

In addition to parental income and savings, 30% of college funding, on average, came from grants and scholarships in 2015, while 16% came from student borrowing, 11% from student income and savings, 6% from parental borrowing, and 5% from friends and family.

Despite the widespread coverage of student loan burdens, the majority of families did not take out loans to pay for college. When they did, the students were the ones who signed the dotted line three-quarters of the time. Families with students enrolled at private four-year colleges were far more likely to borrow (with 56% taking out loans) than those in four-year, or two-year public schools, where 43% and 22% of families took out loans, respectively.

MONEY College

Why Parents Spent Thousands More on College Tuition Last Year

XiXinXing—Getty Images

Families spent an average of $24,164 for the 2014-15 academic year, a 16% increase from the previous year.

A new study by student lender Sallie Mae found the average amount spent on college education in the United States jumped for the first time in five years, thanks to greater outlays from high-income families and parental readiness to spend more.

Families spent an average of $24,164 for the 2014-15 academic year, a 16% increase from the previous year, according to “How America Pays for College 2015,” a survey of 800 parents of undergraduates and 800 undergraduates conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for Sallie Mae in April.

Much of the increase was due to families with incomes over $100,000, who spent 25% more.

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Parental income and savings also increased to 32% of the amount spent, exceeding the amount contributed by scholarships and grants for the first time since 2010, the report found. Sallie Mae has commissioned the annual report since 2008.

Parents were less worried about losing their jobs or about their children not finding work after college, said Michael Gross, head of the higher education practice at Ipsos.

“There is a much brighter sense of optimism that the money they spend educating their child is really an investment that’s going to pay off in the end,” Gross said.

College spending peaked in 2010 at $24,097, or $26,271 in inflation-adjusted dollars, before dropping as families worried about a troubled economy, rising debt loads and higher unemployment, according to previous studies.

This year, fewer families reported making cost-saving moves such as choosing a college closer to home to reduce transportation costs, having a student live at home, or adding a roommate.

Fewer families chose not to consider some colleges because of cost: 62%, compared to 68% a year earlier. Students, however, were much more likely than parents to rule out a particular college because of its price tag.

Three-quarters of the students polled said they eliminated a school from consideration for this reason, against half of parents, said Marie O’Malley, Sallie Mae’s director of consumer research.

“These are students who aware that maybe Mom and Dad aren’t made of money,” O’Malley said.

More Borrowing

The percentage of families who reported borrowing money to pay for college rose to 38% from 35% last year. That figure peaked at 46% in 2010. Families who borrowed spent on average 34% more ($28,386) than those who didn’t ($21,219).

Education debt is primarily the student’s responsibility: Undergraduates signed the loans in 83% of families. Within the families who borrowed, students were the primary signer for three-quarters of the total debt.

Although not all families borrow in a given year, most college students graduate with debt, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the education resource site and author of “Filing the FAFSA.” Seventy-one percent of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with loans, with an average balance of $35,000, he said,

On average, high-income families spent $33,260 on college expenses while families with incomes between $35,000 and $100,000 spent $21,375. Low-income families spent a similar amount: $21,036.

The average amount spent on two-year public colleges jumped 23% to $13,531. Spending on four-year public colleges rose 10% to $23,189, while four-year private college spending was up 20% at $41,857.

For many, the spending won’t stop at a two- or four-year degree. About half of all college students, or 68% of seniors, plan to attend graduate school.

“The undergraduate degree has become so ubiquitous, so it may just be that graduate school is the new college,” Gross said.

Related: Check out MONEY’s 2015-16 Best Colleges rankings


Families Are Paying More for College…and That’s a Good Thing?

graduation cap mortarboard on top of pile of cash
Getty Images—Getty Images

Mom and Dad have started kicking in more cash, a possible sign of greater confidence in the economy.

Talk about looking on the bright side. A new survey says families spent more on college last year, and that could be a good thing.

Sallie Mae’s annual “How America Pays for College” survey does indicate that families spent more, in part, because college costs continue to rise. But the fact that contributions from parent income and savings increased by an average of $1,391—more than any other source of college funding—suggests they’re becoming more willing to part with their precious cash. Coupled with survey results showing families less worried about job losses and falling home values, that could be a sign of an improving economy, according to the study.

The survey found that families paid $24,164 on average toward college in the 2014-15 academic year, up 16% from last year and the first statistically significant increase in the past five years.

Increased spending was consistent regardless of the type of school or a family’s wealth. But the $24,164 average still conceals a lot. Families with students at four-year private colleges, for example, spent the most at $41,857—almost double what families spent on four-year public schools ($23,189) and more than triple the figure for two-year schools ($13,531).

For families earning more than $100,000, parent income and savings covered 45% of college costs, compared with 28% for the middle-income families and just 20% for families earning less than $35,000.

Four out of 10 families said they took out loans to pay for college, and the average amount they borrowed was also higher than last year.

Interestingly, the survey suggests that families who borrowed didn’t do so for basic access to higher education, but so that their student could attend a more expensive college. Borrowers spent a third more on college than those who didn’t borrow, and their students were more likely to be enrolled in private colleges.

The numbers are based on the responses of 1,600 families with at least one 18- to 24-year-old college student.

For advice on paying for college and our latest college rankings, check out the new MONEY College Planner.

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