Student Loan Statistics for 2021

Did you know that students worry as much about their grades as they do about college costs and affordability? Thousands of students take out student loans every year to help cover education costs. In fact, nearly one-third of people under age 30 have student loan debt. From federal and private loans to scholarships and work-study, there are a lot of funding options to help families pay for college.

Here we will take a closer look at key student loan statistics and how undergrads, grads, and parents are covering the cost of college.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Statistics1

  • 30,505,599 FAFSA application completed for the 2020-2021 school year
  • Less than 1% of students complete the FAFSA via paper
  • 33% of FAFSA applicants were first-year students who never attended college before
  • 62% of applicants were over the age of 25
  • 25 Minutes: The average time it takes to complete the FAFSA

Completing the FAFSA is the only way you can qualify for federal student aid. Students must apply every year. Learn how to apply to the FAFSA..

Average Cost of College 2020-20212

  • Private (Nonprofit): $37,650 Tuition & Fees2
  • Public (Out-of-State, 4-year): $27,020 Tuition & Fees
  • Public (In-State, 4-year): $10,560 Tuition & Fees
  • Public (In-District, 2-year): $3,770 Tuition & Fees

Student Expectations3

While nearly all students expect to have loans after they graduate, many are surprised at the actual amount they end up with. A 2020 College Ave survey conducted by Barnes & Noble College InsightsTM found that even though for 74% of students the cost was a deciding factor. However, most still didn’t look at the average amount of student loans before they committed to the school they decided to attend. To prepare yourself for managing your student loans, make sure you work with your lender to understand what you’ll be responsible for each month.

  • 86% of students agree that paying for college is stressful
  • 84% of students with loans expect to have student loan debt when they graduate
  • 79% of students said they don’t know what their monthly payment will be
  • 65% understand that when they repay loans, they will pay back more than they borrowed
  • 69% of students said that their parents pay for some or all of their education
    • Of these, nearly 40% felt that COVID-19 has affected their parent’s ability to pay for college
  • 57% of students said they fully intend to pay back their student loans themselves

College costs are on the rise, and students might be caught off guard by the price tag. Most undergrads find that costs are higher than they expected and end up having to find more funding or pick up extra work to cover it. Need some ideas? Here are 10 Good Ways to Save Money in College.

Average Cost of Additional College Expenses2

  • Room & Board: $11,620 (Public, 4-year, in-state)2
  • Books & Supplies: $1,240
  • Travel & Other Expenses: $3,400
  • Total: $16,260

It’s easy to overlook some college expenses. Applicants get so tied up in tuition numbers that they forget to factor in the cost of textbooks or transportation. Keep a running list of your expected expenses and include that in your forecasted budget.

Who Pays for Student Loans?3

  • 57% of students will pay back their loans on their own
  • 29% of students expect their parents to help pay back loans a little
  • 6% of students will split the bill with their parents
  • 8% of students expect their parents to pay most or all of their loans

Anyone paying for college can agree it gets stressful at times. Whether you’re a student paying back student loans or a parent making payments after graduation, it’s a huge responsibility and commitment. More than half of the students from the College Ave survey are repaying loans on their own. If you’re just getting started, check out these tips on managing your student loans and preparing for the end of your grace period.

The Research Process in Hindsight3

  • 78% would have researched more scholarships
  • 30% would have reached out to the financial aid office to ask for more aid
  • 11% would have investigated different student loan options
  • 75% would not have chosen a different school

Of course, it’s easier to see what you could have done differently in your education and how you paid for it. The biggest takeaway? Research more scholarships before going off to school. It’s a lot of work upfront but can save you money and reduce your total costs. Learn from other students and speak with your financial aid office to discover the best options for you.

It’s important to become familiar with the different costs and implications before signing on the dotted line. For more information on managing the cost of college, start with the basics of student loans or get some techniques for talking about college costs with your family.



[3] The College Ave Student Loans survey was conducted by Barnes & Noble College InsightsTM. The national online survey had 1,033 undergraduate student respondents who attend one of the 772 campuses served by Barnes & Noble College and was fielded in September 2020.

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