Skip to main content

What if you don't end up needing your savings?

Your little one might become the next Picasso or earn a full ride to Harvard. Don't worry; you won't lose all your college savings.

College savings accounts are flexible

Some things you save for are pretty much certain—you want to retire someday, your car will eventually break down, you'd like to become a homeowner—but college might not be one of them.

If you're thinking about saving for college but your kid is still in diapers, you might be wondering:

  • Will he or she even want to go to college?
  • What if he or she gets a scholarship?
  • What if I urgently need to use the money for something else?

Never fear—you have lots of options.

You can use the money for other types of education

For instance, if your child decides he or she would rather pursue a career as a chef or mechanic, certain types of accounts can be used to pay for vocational schooling.

Some savings options even cover elementary and secondary school costs as well as graduate school.

You can use the money for someone else

Some college savings accounts require you to indicate the person you plan to use the money for. But if your kid doesn't end up using it, you can always transfer the account to another person.

If all else fails, you can use the money for anything

No matter which type of account you open, you can take your money out and use it for whatever you choose. However, accounts that have tax benefits also have penalties if you take money out for costs that aren't educational. (The penalties only apply to earnings in the account, not contributions.)*

If your child does end up getting a full-ride scholarship—and in certain other situations—some account types will give you an exception from the penalty.

Handy tools

You're planning to put money away for their future, but how do you know if you're saving enough?

Tips for grandparents

Learn some smart tips on giving the child you love a head start on college.

The Vanguard 529 Plan

Discover the many benefits of our premier college savings plan.


Layer opened.


The investment returns you accumulate on the savings in your account.

Layer opened.


The yearly, monthly, or weekly amounts you save in your account.