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We always hear about the emotional rollercoaster our kids face as college nears, but what about us parents?

I recently had the opportunity to ask over 1,000 parents who are saving for college about their feelings ̶   were they confident, anxious, or somewhere in the middle and why?1 Their answers were both surprising and helpful, so I wanted to share them with all of you.

Some good news

Where you save matters. Parents saving for college using a 529 plan are more likely to feel successful, excited, thankful, and even joyful about their efforts. I wish I could say that’s because 529 plans have some secret ingredient that makes you feel good. In reality, I think you the parents are the secret ingredient. In my work, I see time and time again how 529 parents make smart forward-looking decisions and have earned the right to feel good about that.

Evidently where you live matters too. California parents feel better about their college savings efforts than those living elsewhere. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out the reason behind that, but it is still nice to know.

It’s a journey

Parents of young children who have already started to save for college often report they are proud of their efforts and should be because they are getting an early start. College is a long way off for them, however, so it is often hard for these parents to feel confident about how things will wind up.

Parents of high school students, by comparison, are more confident that their children will actually attend college, feel better about their college savings progress, and overall are more optimistic about paying for college. But as college gets closer, parent-savers are also more likely to report they feel disheartened, regretful, and helpless.

There are a lot of mixed feelings

There are people out there who are feeling just plain old happy about paying for college and others who just feel badly, but for most, it is a mixed bag.

  • Three-fourths of those who feel proud of their college savings efforts also feel regretful.
  • Over half the people who say they feel successful also say they feel alone.
  • And nearly half of those who say they feel optimistic also report feeling depressed about it.

According to one article in the National Library of Medicine, “The experience of mixed emotions is thought to indicate healthier outcomes.”2 So if you’re one of those people with mixed feelings, well, keep up the good work.

Maybe being anxious isn’t a bad thing either

Among college savers who report being anxious or very anxious about paying for college…

  • 94% believe their child can afford to go to school full-time.
  • 92% anticipate their child will be able to afford to start college right after high school.
  • 92% feel there will be at least a good range of schools within their budget.
  • 90% think their children will graduate college without having to take on too much debt.

All this paints a positive picture despite the anxiety. And while there are differences in expectations between the anxious and very confident, these aren’t about the basics. It’s about providing the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae.

  • 69% of the very confident think their child will be able to afford any school they want to attend, regardless of cost vs. 15% for anxious savers.
  • 66% of the very confident feel their child will not have to work (work-study or other employment) during the school year vs. 21% of anxious savers.
  • 74% of the very confident feel their children will graduate with no debt whatsoever vs. 16% for anxious savers.

I’m a big fan of cherries and extra whipped cream, but let’s keep things in perspective. I can’t buy any car I want regardless of cost either.

A few more things to think about

  1. Acknowledge reality. It is a rollercoaster ride. There are reasons to feel great and reasons to feel less so. Don’t fight it.
  2. Give yourself a break. You have made a ton of good choices that have gotten you this far in your journey. You could have saved more, but if you’re like most people I know, you’ve made smart decisions balancing the needs of your family.
  3. Keep in mind, that there are a lot of paths to success. You may need to be a bit flexible in your vision  ̶ be it attending a state school, starting at a community college, enrolling part-time, or even taking on some extra loans. You know your child is an amazing person and you’ll figure out a way to help them reach their potential.
  4. Knowledge is power. The ScholarShare 529 College Countdown is a great place to start, that’s why it’s here. From this blog to the Parent Advisor Council and other content, there is a lot of information and support right here. Chances are your child’s school can offer help as well.
  5. If it seems like too much. Don’t be shy about reaching out for help. Your medical provider may be one option, and the National Institute of Mental Health has a great list of resources

A closing thought

You’re reading this blog, you’re on this website, you’re saving for college. You’re doing great.



  1. Study of Emotional State of Parents Saving for College, fielded January 2024, 1,006 participants
  2. “Mixed Emotions Across Adulthood: When, Where, and Why,” National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnical Information,


Mitch is the dad of two recent college graduates (who keep talking about applying to grad school) and parent to a special needs adult. Founder and President of a boutique communications strategy group, Mitch has worked with college saving programs around the country for over twenty years.