College is a costly undertaking. The average annual budget for a college student at a public four-year institution in 2019-2020 was $26,590 vs. a whopping $53,980 for a student at a private, nonprofit four-year school, per the College Board. Ouch!

Clearly, unless you're very well-off, you're going to have to be socking away a lot of money to cover your kids' college expenses. The stock market is a great wealth builder for your long-term dollars -- meaning money you won't need for at least five, if not 10, years -- and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are a convenient way to load up on stocks.

A graduate's cap is sitting atop a surface covered with hundred dollar bills.

Image source: Getty Images.

Here's a look at 18 ETFs with solid performance histories and promising futures.

Sticking with stocks

The simplest way to jump into the stock market is via a low-fee, broad-market index fund, such as one that tracks the S&P 500. Such a fund will aim to hold the same stocks in the same proportion in order to earn pretty much the same return (less fees, of course). The SPDR S&P 500 ETF is a great example, with an expense ratio (annual fee) of just 0.09%, meaning that it will lop off only $9 of a $10,000 investment each year.

The S&P 500 index is made up of 500 big American companies, such as Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Walt Disney, Netflix, Costco, Bank of America, and Southwest Airlines. Over the past 10 years, the S&P 500 averaged 12.2% annual gains and an even higher average, 14.4%, with dividends reinvested.

Promising ETFs for long-term growth

You can aim to do even better than that, though, by parking some of your dollars in carefully chosen stocks, mutual funds, or ETFs that you think will outperform the market average. The table below offers a bunch of contenders for your consideration. It's long, but that's in order to give you a broad range of ETFs to choose from for a closer look.

You'll see that many, for example, are focused on particular sectors or industries. Some, after all, are growing more briskly than others and are likely to continue doing so. You'll also see some focusing on certain kinds of companies, such as large companies, mid-cap companies, and growth companies. Most have expense ratios of 0.20% or less, which is quite low, and the rest are at 0.60% or considerably less.

ETF Name


10-Year Avg. Annual Growth Rate

Representative Holdings

iShares U.S. Medical Devices ETF



Medtronic, Intuitive Surgical

Invesco QQQ Trust ETF




iShares S&P 500 Growth ETF



Microsoft, Facebook 

iShares Russell 1000 Growth ETF



Alphabet, Visa 

Vanguard Growth ETF



Apple, Microsoft

Vanguard Information Technology ETF



Microsoft, Intel 

Vanguard Russell 1000 Growth ETF 


17.9%, Facebook

Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund ETF



Microsoft, Apple

iShares PHLX Semiconductor ETF



Qualcomm, Broadcom 

SPDR S&P Biotech ETF



Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Invitae 

Health Care Select Sector SPDR Fund



UnitedHealth Group, Merck 

Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR Fund


17.6%, Home Depot 

Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF 



Microsoft, Apple

Fidelity MSCI Information Technology Index ETF 



Visa, Microsoft

Nuveen ESG Mid-Cap Growth ETF 



Splunk, Snap 

SPDR S&P Internet ETF


28.6%, Match Group 

Invesco DWA Healthcare Momentum ETF



Novavax, Teladoc Health

Source: Yahoo! Finance, fund websites.
*Since inception, 10/21/13.
**Since inception, 12/13/16.
***Since inception, 6,27,16.

Keep this caveat in mind, though: Past growth rates will not necessarily continue in the years to come. The next 10 years are not likely to be just like the past 10, so each of these funds is likely to sport a higher or lower average return.

How should you choose? Think about which fields you think will grow fastest, perhaps doing some digging to gather information online. You might, for example, end up especially bullish on internet stocks and healthcare stocks. If so, perhaps park some money in one or more ETFs focused on those. If you've got a lot in large stocks, perhaps add an ETF focused on mid-cap or small companies.

Note, too, that there can be a lot of overlap in many ETFs. Large-cap-focused ones, for example, are likely to have much of their assets in companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon. In some cases, they may have 20% to 40% or more of their assets in such companies.

However you go about it, be sure that you're saving and investing for your kids' educational futures. There are many ways to do so, and some or many of the ETFs above are worth considering. At a minimum, consider just putting many or most of your long-term dollars in an S&P 500 index fund.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.