Donation Programs for College Students

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How You Can Help a Student Succeed

You don’t have to give away millions to be a philanthropist. Even a small donation or the gift of your time can be a huge boon for those who need it. One great way to give is to help a student earn a college education. There are lots of ways to do it, too – from donating to a college education advocacy group to contributing some cash to help a student pay tuition. This guide will help you find big and small ways to help turn a student’s college dream into reality.

Why Students Need Extra Help

For many families, paying for a child’s college education entirely on their own is out of the question. Here are a few very big reasons students need all the extra help they can get:

College can be expensive
According to Department of Education statistics, after adjusting for inflation, the average cost (tuition, fees, room and board) for a full-time undergraduate student at a four-year college in the U.S. in 1985-86 was $12,052 ($5,504 in 1985-86’s dollars). In 2015-16, the cost was $26,120. That can be a lot to come up with, especially for students who may not have much financial support at home.

The money students can raise from traditional sources often isn’t not enough
For many students, a traditional student loan package doesn’t quite cover all their expenses. They may have their tuition covered but still struggle to pay for books or meals. Or they may not be eligible for enough financial aid to cover their dream school.

Graduating from college often means high student debt
Almost 40% of adults under the age of 30 are currently carrying some amount of student loan debt, with the amount of debt for the median borrower in 2016 coming in at around $17,000. That’s a lot of debt to handle when you’re just starting out after college graduation.

Crowdfunding College

You’ve probably at least heard of crowdfunding, which has become a multi-billion-dollar global financial force. But what exactly is it? How are students using it to pay for college? And how can you use it to support a student?

What is crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is a method of funding a cause or project by raising money from a large number of individual contributors, most commonly through online crowdfunding platforms.

Crowdfunding can be used to fund practically any project or cause: from a new website or business; to the development of a new, innovative product; to the creation and distribution of a work of music, art or literature.

How can crowdfunding help college students?

College students seek money through crowdfunding to pay their tuition, college fees and any other education-related costs, like food and housing or books and supplies. Many graduates also initiate crowdfunding campaigns to help pay off their student loan debt.

There are many types of crowdfunding, including reward-based, peer-to-peer crowdfunding (also called crowdlending), and equity-based crowdfunding. But the one students most often use to pay for college expenses is:

Contributors donate funds without any requirement or expectation of a reward or re-payment. Donation-based crowdfunding is commonly used to raise money for charitable causes, like building a school in an underdeveloped country or paying someone’s medical bills.

Students should be wary of peer-to-peer crowdfunding as they will be obligated to pay back the amount of money earned, plus interest. Peer-to-peer loans often have higher interest rates than traditional loans.

How can you choose a crowdfunding platform to support?

If your intent is to give to a student you know, like a family member or close friend, then your platform choice has been made for you. You’ll simply visit the crowdfunding site where his or her campaign is located and make your contribution.

If that’s not the case, however, there are several factors you can consider when looking for the right place to put your money. Here are a few:

  • Cost
    Some platforms charge a fee of five to ten percent of all funds raised for its services, while others are essentially fee-free. Fee-free platforms mean more money in the funds seeker’s pocket, and that may be a determining factor for you.
  • Purpose
    Are you looking to help pay a single student’s college expenses, or to help out a program that advocates for a larger group of students by meeting a broader need? There are sites that focus on either one or both of these options.
  • Success rates
    Check sites for information and statistics on the success of their campaigns. If you see lots of students bringing in the bucks, for example, you may have found the site for you.

Expert Q&A on crowdfunding for college

Jesse Boland is the Director of Online Marketing at YouCaring. Joining YouCaring in 2014, Boland leads digital marketing efforts to drive growth and help position YouCaring as the leader in free online fundraising.

How big is crowdfunding to pay for college? Are you seeing any particular trends?

Over the last few years, the cost of education has risen twice as fast as medical care costs, and college costs show no signs of slowing. Student loan debt has doubled in the last 10 years, and we’ve noticed that half of the crowdfunding campaigns coming in to raise money for college are exploring ways to pay for school, while the other half are looking at options to pay off their growing student loan debt.

What is the average donation amount to student crowdfunding campaigns on YouCaring?

We don’t have this exact number, but all YouCaring fundraisers usually average about a couple thousand dollars.

Is there any minimum amount that can be donated? In other words, is there a donation size too small?

There is no minimum amount. A campaign is considered active once it has received $1.

How does a donor know that a student’s crowdfunding campaign is legitimate and that the donation will actually go towards college costs?

YouCaring has been a trusted Compassionate Crowdfunding platform since 2011. We have the verified lowest risk of fraud in the industry and a 97% customer service rating.

On our end, we use state-of-the-art proprietary and third-party fraud prevention technologies to ensure that YouCaring has the safest and most reliable fundraising platform in the industry. Our payment providers are chosen for their bank-grade encryption technology and their strong security track records. And our comprehensive trust and safety infrastructure closely monitors the site for misuse or abuse, taking action to keep both fundraisers and donors safe and secure.

We also see that donors typically know the recipient or know someone who is connected to the recipient, so that also helps the campaign’s legitimacy. We encourage organizers to clearly identify where the funds are going in their description to strengthen trust for the donor as well.

Do you have other ways that someone could donate to support college students besides individual student crowdfunding campaigns?

We encourage donors to search our website for fundraisers that are raising money for collected groups / scholarship funds. Here is just one example: comedian Kevin Hart started his own crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for deserving youth to help them pay for college.

Crowdfunding Resources

Here’s a list of some of the most popular crowdfunding sites for college students:

ScholarMatch is a crowdfunding platform specifically for students raising money for college. Beyond crowdfunding, it also provides a number of services to help underserved students access and succeed in college.
This non-profit aims to help students pay for their college expenses by receiving micro-donations through their platform.

DreamFund is a crowdfunding platform that helps individuals tap into their circles of family, friends and others to save money for a wide variety of purposes, including paying for college.

A major crowdfunding site for college education campaigns, students can set up individual accounts to raise money for tuition and related costs, or to help pay off their student loan debt.

A major reward-based platform for entrepreneurs, including those focused on raising funds for their college education.

An all-purpose crowdfunding platform that allows for contributions to be made online through credit/debit card and PayPal, and offline by cash or check.

Relying on donations to run its operations, YouCaring is a crowdfunding site for personal, charitable and medical causes. A popular choice for college funding campaigns.

Advocacy Groups that Support College Students

Contributing money to help pay a particular student’s college expenses isn’t the only way you can help. There are many reputable organizations out there working hard to make college more accessible to a wider group of students and to bolster student success while in school. Here are a few examples:

  • Access College Foundation

    What They Do
    Provides a full range of free programs and services aimed at helping middle school, high school and college students in the South Hampton Roads, Virginia area attend and complete college.

    How You Can Help
    Make a donation or legacy gift, or make a purchase through the AmazonSmile program.

  • The Campaign for College Opportunity

    The Campaign for College Opportunity

    What They Do
    Dedicated to ensuring that “all eligible and motivated students in California have an opportunity to go to college and succeed” through policy advocacy and initiatives, and public awareness programs.

    How You Can Help
    Make a donation or become involved in one of several ways.

  • College for Every Student (CFES)

    College for Every Student (CFES)

    What They Do
    CFES currently supports 25,000 K-12 students from low-income and urban areas in the U.S. and Ireland become college and career ready through mentoring, college pathway support and the teaching of essential skills.

    How You Can Help
    Make a donation (email CFES at or encourage a school in your area to become a CFES member.

  • College Possible

    College Possible

    What They Do
    An AmeriCorps organization, College Possible’s goal is to make college admission and success possible for low-income students by providing an “intensive curriculum of coaching and support” both during and after high school.

    How You Can Help
    Make a donation or work for College Possible as an AmeriCorps member.

  • College Track

    College Track

    What They Do
    Helps underserved students in communities in California, Colorado and Louisiana to prepare for and succeed in college through academic support, financial and college advising, scholarships and leadership training.

    How You Can Help
    Make a donation, or work for or become a College Track volunteer.

  • National College Advocacy Group (NGAC)

    National College Advocacy Group (NGAC)

    What They Do
    Provides education and resources for students and their families, as well as training and education for financial planners and college admissions advisors.

    How You Can Help
    Join the NGAC.

  • Scholarship America

    Scholarship America

    What They Do
    Designs and delivers private scholarship and support programs for students, their families and communities.

    How You Can Help
    Make a donation, or work for or become a volunteer.

Easy Ways You Can Help a College Student

If contributing to a crowdfunding platform or donating time or money to an advocacy group isn’t right for you but you still want to help, there are smaller ways you can make a difference in a student’s life. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Become a mentor
    There are thousands of smart, motivated students out there at every level of the education ladder that could use additional support. All you have to do is make yourself available to share your academic, professional or personal experience. Contact your local school district, nearby college, your own alma mater or go to for more information on becoming a mentor to a deserving student.
  • Contribute to a student’s college savings plan
    If you know of a particular student who may need some extra help paying for college, consider donating even a small amount directly to a student’s 529 college savings plan. The Gift of College program allows individuals to purchase gift cards specifically for donating to 529 accounts.
  • Send a care package
    Getting a care package with treats and supplies from home can provide much-needed support to college students struggling with homesickness. Unfortunately, many students from low-income or non-traditional backgrounds, like foster students, never receive them. Brighten a student’s day by sponsoring a care package.You can support a care package sent by HEAF, a non-profit that supports underserved students, for only $25. Foster Care to Success sends care packages to foster youth with a $100 donation. And has a variety of care package options for first-generation college students depending on the donation level.
  • Send a meal
    If a student you know could use a filling meal because they’re short on cash or in a particularly busy time of year, consider sending them one. FromHomeWithLove lets you send home-cooked meals you’ve made yourself. Or have a meal sent through UberEats, if it’s available in their city.
  • Donate gently-used professional clothes
    Some colleges, like Clark College in Vancouver, WA, provide gently-used professional clothing to students for job interviews. Reach out to a college or university in your area to see if they have similar programs.

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