A Student’s Guide

to Planning & Saving

As a middle school or high school student, there are things you can do to get yourself ready to continue your education journey after high school.

You could earn a technical degree, a certificate, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree. It’s important to think about what and how you like to learn as you look at options for education after high school.

A Middle School Student’s Guide to Planning & Saving

In middle school, you may make choices about what sport you play, what elective you take at school, or what you use your spending money on. As you get older, you’ll continue to make decisions about what you do with your time and how you spend your money. 

Believe it or not, middle school is the perfect time to start thinking about some of those choices, specifically related to your college and career dreams. The following resources will help you start thinking about your future and planning for career and college success.

Investigative Journalism

Some of the best resources for information related to college and career are the adults in your life. Their stories may inspire your dreams. Be curious and ask questions! Why not interview an adult in your life whom you admire? Below are some suggested questions to get you started, but get creative! Ask the questions that you want to know.

Career Questions

  • What is your job?
  • What do you love about your job?
  • What are your qualities that make you good at your job?
  • What did you want to be when you were my age?
  • What was your first job?

College Questions

  • What college did you go to?
  • What did you study?
  • How much did college cost when you went?
  • How did you and your family pay for college?
  • What’s a favorite memory of yours from college?

Claim Your Future®

Claim Your Future is an interactive game that lets you try out future careers and make decisions about how you’d spend your money. Do you want to be a teacher or a technician? Would you rather spend your money on TV, internet, or a cell phone? Will you want a sports car, a used car, or a bus pass? Make all these decisions and more at www.claimyourfuture.com

Learn the Lingo

A lot of the words people use to talk about college are fancier words for things you already know. Learn some of these words and be well on your way to having the vocabulary of a college student!

College or University

There are many different places students learn after high school. Two of them are called colleges and universities.

Think: School


Colleges and universities are usually pretty big and need more than just one building for all of their students. The buildings, grass, and space that make up a college or university are called a campus.

Think: Schoolyard

Dining Hall, Commons, or Cafeteria

Where college students eat.

Think: Cafeteria

Dorm or Residence Hall

The name of the building where students live. They have long hallways and many rooms, similar to a hotel.

Think: Home


Students usually share their dorm room with someone else called a roommate. It’s like having a sleepover every night!

Think: Locker Buddy, but you share a room not just a locker.


Instead of saying “Mr.” “Ms.” or “Mrs.,” teachers at college are called “Professor.”

Think: Teacher


What a college student studies. At college, you’re no longer required to take reading, writing, math, science, social studies, art, and gym – you can pick what you’re most excited about and study a lot of it!

Think: Favorite Subject

A High School Student’s Guide to Planning & Saving

While we use “college” to refer to education after high school, there are many different ways to continue your education. Some schools and programs rely on traditional testing and lectures, while others require more hands-on, technical training. It’s important to think about what and how you like to learn as you look at options for education after high school.

The following resources will help you gain a greater understanding of how to pay for college and what you can do to contribute.

Paying for College

The price of college listed on a school’s website is called the sticker price. This price can be overwhelming! The good news is few people actually pay this full price. The price you pay for college (sticker price minus financial aid and scholarships) is called the net price.

You’ll see lots of information on this website about how to plan and pay for education after high school. Check out this link for a great overview!

Financial Aid

What is financial aid? Financial aid is the term used for the grants, scholarships, or loans to help you pay tuition. This aid may come from the federal government or directly from your college or university.

Who gets financial aid? You don’t need straight A’s to get aid – family income is the biggest factor when financial aid is determined. Everyone, regardless of grades or family income, should apply for financial aid.

Key Financial Aid Terms

Financial Aid determined by your family’s income and savings.


Financial Aid you earn based on your grades and extra-curricular interests, or other qualities.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

This is the amount of money your family is believed to be able to contribute towards tuition annually.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Launched on October 1st of the year before you enter college (in other words, October of your senior year), this is the application for financial aid. Parents must complete the FAFSA if their child is going to be considered for financial aid.

Demonstrated Need

The difference between your expected family contribution and the total cost of attendance at a college.


What are loans? Loans are money that you borrow and need to repay back later. The federal government, state agencies, and private banks or other financial institutions are the largest lenders for college.

Do I need to take out student loans? You are never required to take out a loan, but sometimes the cost of college isn’t possible without borrowing money.

Key Loan Terms
Interest Rate

The interest rate is the cost of borrowing. This is money that you’ll have to repay in addition to the loan and is usually a percentage of the initial loan amount.

Direct Subsidized Loan

Direct Subsidized Loan is a need-based loan. Interest does not accrue while the student is in school.

Direct Unsubsidized Loan

Direct Unsubsidized Loan is not need-based. Interest does accrue while the student is in school.

Need-based Loans

These loans are for students with demonstrated financial need and offered by the federal government.

Parent Contribution

Will my parents help pay for college? This is a conversation you should have with your parents, but your parents may contribute to your college education through income and college savings. If your parents have saved money for college for you, this money will greatly help your ability to pay for college.

Student Contribution

How can I help pay for college? Saving for college shouldn’t fall on your parents alone. If you have a part-time or summer job, put aside some of every paycheck towards college. If you receive money for birthdays, holidays, or graduations, save some of this money as well. Your family and friends will be impressed that you’re so committed to making your college dreams a reality.

Many colleges include an expected student contribution in their financial aid packages. This means they expect you to work during the summer or school-year to contribute to your education.


What are scholarships? There are many different types of scholarships, but they all have one thing in common: scholarships are money that you don’t need to repay.

Your college or university may offer institutional scholarships, or you may choose to apply to private, outside scholarships at the state, local, and national level. Applying for scholarships is time well spent. Scholarship money usually reduces the amount of loans you may need to take out.

How do I find and apply for private or outside scholarships? School counselors and principals are great resources for local scholarships, but online scholarship databases are helpful in finding national scholarships.

Work-Study Programs

What is work-study? Work-study is a federal program that offers part-time jobs to students to help pay for part of their college costs. If you qualify, it will be part of your financial aid package.

Part-Time Jobs: An Earning and Learning Experience

Whether a summer, weekend, or after school position, high school is a perfect time to get your first job. Great first jobs for high school students include working at cafés, restaurants, or grocery stores, and as a lifeguard, landscaper, or painter.

Earning Experience

Paychecks and taxes: With your first job comes your first paycheck. While you may have earned money through small jobs for friends or neighbors, a paycheck is noticeably different. The first thing you’ll notice about a paycheck is your income (earned money) is subject to taxes. This means that the government takes out a portion of your earnings to pay for government programs and services. Paying taxes is an important part of your civic duty – but it’s also a requirement of the law!

Saving and spending: On payday, you’ll have to decide what to do with your post-tax income. It can be difficult to resist spending your paycheck on clothing, food, and movie or concert tickets. This is probably the first time you’re earning money independent of your parents, but the freedom to spend your own money is also a great responsibility. Develop responsible financial habits by budgeting your income. Dedicate a portion of that income to spending, but save some of it for college as well. The amount may be small, but every dollar makes a difference when you’re investing in your future.

Learning Experience

Professionalism: Part-time jobs teach valuable skills, like time-management, accountability, and responsibility. You’ll learn what skills and qualities are valued in the workplace.

Community engagement: Just as colleges like to see that their applicants are involved in sports, plays, or music, they understand that part-time jobs are a part of extra-curricular involvement as well. Holding a part-time job means you’re engaged in your community.

Career exploration: Your first job is a great way to take the pulse of what you like to do. Do you like your job that involves a lot of customer interaction, or would you prefer something more individual? If you work on commission or tips, does this motivate you more than just an hourly wage? The answers to these questions may help you narrow down a career path.