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Paying for College Without Parents Help

April 01, 2019 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Paying for College Without Parents Help

It can seem like a college degree is practically a prerequisite to getting a job these days. Depending on the career path you want to pursue, you may need to get a master’s degree or further.

It can feel challenging enough for young adults to create a plan to fund their education when they don’t have parents willing to provide guidance and assistance.

Without the support of parents, the question of how to pay for college tuition can seem even more daunting. If you’re faced with the reality of financing your education without any assistance from your parents, this list of strategies could help you find a path to higher education, including:

•   Choosing the right college
•   Cutting costs while attending college
•   Applying for relevant scholarships
•   Working while attending school
•   Obtaining grants to help pay for college
•   Applying for student loans

Each student is in a unique financial situation, and you may find a combination of these strategies can provide the help you need in order to pay for college. Many of these strategies are the same ones that students who do have parental assistance can use.

Choosing the Right College

The best college for your situation lies at the intersection of ones that provide the programs you need to achieve your career goals and the ones you can afford.

Decisions you’ll need to make include:

•   Living at home or in a dormitory or other housing by the college
•   Choosing between a public or private college
•   Picking between in-state and out-of-state colleges

If you can live near the college, rent-free, or at low cost, then this clearly is the most cost-effective choice. Perhaps you have family members who, although they can’t otherwise help you with college, will allow you to live with them while you pursue your education. Or maybe you could rent a cost-effective apartment near a community college or other school that doesn’t require freshmen to live in a dorm.

Public colleges are, on average, less expensive than private colleges . For the 2018 to 2019 school year, the average cost for private school tuition and fees was $35,830, compared to the public college average which was $26,290 for out-of-state students attending a state school.

Prices get even more reasonable if you attend school in your home state and receive in-state tuition; The average cost of in-state tuition and fees was $10,230.

In general, in-state universities are more affordable than going out of state. But the difference between out-of-state and in-state students can vary widely, so check into your colleges of choice for confirmation. Factor in traveling costs for out-of-state options and also consider online college programs where you can take classes no matter where you are located.

Cutting Costs While Attending College

Minimalist lifestyles are trending, and for good reason. They allow people to eliminate clutter and otherwise make thoughtful decisions about what does and doesn’t add value to their lives.

If, for example, you plan to rent a room in a house near your college of choice, you can furnish it in funky, eclectic ways using stylish and affordable finds from thrift stores and garage sales. If you’re handy, you can even build your own loft bed and other furniture, with plenty of instructions available online.

Related: What Percentage of Parents Pay for College?

Food gets expensive quickly. If you’ll be on a college meal plan, choose one that doesn’t include waste. Or if you’re living somewhere where you can cook your own food, plan thrifty meals in advance and shop in bulk. You can enjoy simple and healthy meals without ever needing to rely on college standbys like ramen noodles. Watch for a slow cooker at rummage sales, and you can cook plenty of delicious soups and more.

If you’re a coffee person, also watch for a coffee maker on sale (or at garage sales). It’s amazing how much money you can save by skipping coffee shops.

Another considerable expense: textbooks. Do your due diligence and shop around to see if there are any used options you can purchase at a discounted rate. If the book you are buying is directly related to your college major, and you plan on saving it for reference in the future, it could be worthwhile to buy the book. If it’s a textbook for an elective class, you could consider renting the textbook which can often be cheaper than buying it brand new.

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Applying for Relevant Scholarships

Because scholarships don’t typically need to be repaid, they are an excellent way to help fund your college education. If you’re finishing high school, talk to your guidance counselor about possibilities. There are often local scholarships provided by businesses and civic groups that you can apply for.

These days, you can also find a lot of scholarship opportunities online. There are often major-specific opportunities and more general offerings. It’s worth investing a bit of time in researching and applying for scholarships—a couple hours could really be worth it when those scholarship offers start rolling in.

As you’re researching scholarships, be sure to find quality opportunities and be wary of scams. And don’t shy away from smaller scholarships. While it would be nice to have one large scholarship to cover your cost of college, smaller scholarships can add up, incrementally chipping away at what you need to afford college.

When you find a college scholarship of interest, check the guidelines carefully to ensure you qualify and to make sure that you apply in exactly the right way. Fill applications out thoroughly, as early as possible within a scholarship timeline.

Proofread before turning in your applications and note that, although you can often reuse parts of one scholarship application to complete another, each opportunity has unique requirements, formats, and deadlines.

Working While Attending School

In addition to potentially helping you qualify for financial aid, your FAFSAⓇ may qualify you for federal work-study programs. Of course, finding a part-time job that isn’t associated with work-study is also an option.

You will need to determine how many hours per week you can work and still do well in school. And you’ll also need to find a job that is willing to accommodate the work-school balance you require. For example, it’s important to find an employer who will offer flexibility in scheduling during, for example, midterms and final exams.

Obtaining Grants to Help Pay for College

Grant funding can come from multiple sources, including state agencies, local organizations, corporations, and more. And as with scholarships, this is money you don’t typically need to pay back. The biggest source of college grant funding comes from the federal government, with one of the best known being the Pell Grant .

Federal grants come in different categories, including:

•   Need-based grants which are based upon financial hardship.
•   Merit-based grants awarded to students who exhibit exceptional scholarship and/or community involvement.
•   Grants awarded to specific groups, including students with disabilities, those from under-represented groups, veterans, National Guard members, foster care youth, and those who select certain careers.

Obtaining federal grant funding without help from your parents can be challenging, though. That’s not so surprising, considering your FAFSA will be considered incomplete without parental information. In the event that your parents are unable to fill out their portion of the FAFSA , you’ll have to contact your college’s financial aid office and show appropriate documentation that verifies that your parents cannot fill out the form.

In certain circumstances, you can obtain independent student status and complete the FAFSA yourself, but parental refusal to help with FAFSA completion might not be enough to gain this status.

Even if you fully support yourself financially and are no longer claimed as a dependent on your parents’ tax forms, this status may not necessarily be granted. See your guidance counselor if you want to explore obtaining this status.

Applying for Student Loans

Students that fund their college educations without assistance from their parents often need to craft a financial aid plan that consists of funding from multiple sources. In certain circumstances, students may have found funding from both the federal government and private lenders.

Federal and private student loans are available, but most federal loans require a portion of your FAFSA to be completed with parental information, unless you have independent student status.

Effective with the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 , college financial aid departments can offer students unsubsidized Stafford loans even if their parental section on their FAFSA isn’t completed, as long as they confirm that parents are not willing to financially help the student or fill out the FAFSA.

You can also apply for private student loans, although, if you don’t have a built up credit history, you will probably need a cosigner. This is an option to consider, though, if someone else–perhaps a grandparent, aunt, or close family friend—is willing to be a student loan cosigner for you.

With determination and a willingness to seek out and accept help, students do find ways to fund their college educations without assistance from their parents.

SoFi makes the student loan process simple, so paying for school is stress-free. Find your rates in just minutes.


The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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