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63% of Parents Surveyed Agree Their College Plans Have Returned to What They Were Before the Pandemic

Nearly two thirds of parents are still worried about having enough money to help pay for their child’s education

After a difficult year navigating remote learning and changing expectations of what college may look like amid the pandemic, a national survey from Discover® Student Loans revealed families’ feelings about the college experience are now returning to “normal.”

Sixty-three percent of parents responded to the survey saying their child’s post-high school plans have returned to what they were before the pandemic. Of those who altered their college plans since the start of the pandemic, most say they will now attend a school closer to home (18%), an online university (10%) or go to a less expensive school then initially planned (8%).

Parents’ ability to help their child pay for college has also started to rebound. Forty percent of parents say their ability to help pay has improved since this time last year. As another encouraging sign for families, of those parents who are worried about paying for college, just 19% say they lost money because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 – down from 30% who said they lost money in 2020.

“After a challenging year for students and their families, we’re encouraged to learn that college plans are returning to normal for most, and that fewer families are feeling the financial impact of the pandemic,” said Manny Chagas, vice president of Discover Student Loans. “As we slowly start to put the pandemic behind us, college still remains a large financial decision and it is important families continue to plan and discuss their ability to pay for college early and often.”

Parents plan to pay for more of their child’s college than they have in the past, but anxiety remains.

Nearly three-in-four parents (73%) say they will pay for half or more of their child’s education. And, 43% of parents say they will not limit their child’s college choices based on price, up 10 percentage points from 2018.

Despite the increasing willingness to help their child, paying for college remains a concern for parents. Overall, 63% of parents say they are still worried about having enough money to help pay for their child’s education. Most parents are worried their child is not receiving enough in financial aid (55%) or scholarships (49%).

This anxiety is felt by their students as well. Thirty-eight percent of parents say paying for college is the child’s top anxiety about attending college, followed by applying for scholarships and financial aid (30%). These concerns with financing college outranked choosing a major (28%) and attending more difficult classes (26%).

Families are working together to find a plan to pay for college.

Over half (59%) of parents say the pandemic caused them and their student to have more candid conversations about how their family will pay for college. While 41% of parents don’t feel like they started saving early enough, up from 37% in 2019, most are planning to leverage a mix of resources to finance college.

When asked how they were going to finance college, 61% of parents say the pandemic has not impacted how they plan to pay. Scholarships/grants (47%), savings (45%) and student loans (37%) continue to be the most popular financing options among parents. Notably – 11% of parents report they will forego saving for their retirement to help their student pay for college.

“It’s important that parents and students discuss how the cost of college is getting split in a way that’s realistic and comfortable for all involved,” Chagas added. “Utilizing free online tools and resources, like budgeting calculators and planning calendars, can help families make smarter college financing decisions.”

For more information on free tools and resources from Discover Student Loans, visit

About the Survey

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from a Dynata (formerly Research Now/SSI) survey conducted on behalf of Discover Financial Services. The survey was conducted online; fielded from May 10 – May 15, 2021 with a total sample size of 1,000 US parents of college bound students. The margin of sampling error was ±2.53 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.

About Discover

Discover Financial Services (NYSE: DFS) is a digital banking and payment services company with one of the most recognized brands in U.S. financial services. Since its inception in 1986, the company has become one of the largest card issuers in the United States. The company issues the Discover card, America's cash rewards pioneer, and offers private student loans, personal loans, home loans, checking and savings accounts and certificates of deposit through its banking business. It operates the Discover Global Network comprised of Discover Network, with millions of merchant and cash access locations; PULSE, one of the nation's leading ATM/debit networks; and Diners Club International, a global payments network with acceptance around the world. For more information, visit


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