7 Steps: How to Pay for College Without Your Parents’ Help

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the financial institution.

how to pay for college without parents
Logo

OUR PROMISE TO YOU: Student Loan Hero is a completely free website 100% focused on helping student loan borrowers get the answers they need. Read more

How do we make money? It’s actually pretty simple. If you choose to check out and become a customer of any of the loan providers featured on our site, we get compensated for sending you their way. This helps pay for our amazing staff of writers (many of which are paying back student loans of their own!).

Bottom line: We’re here for you. So please learn all you can, email us with any questions, and feel free to visit or not visit any of the loan providers on our site. Read less


Need a student loan?

Check out our top picks below or learn more about other ways to pay for college.
2.75% to 10.65% APR1

Visit Lender

2.84% to 10.97% APR2

Visit Lender

2.80% to 11.37% APR3

Visit Lender

  • Variable APR

If you grew up in a family with limited income or with one that’s stretched thin among siblings, your parents might not be able to help you pay for college.

Whether you’re completely on your own or are receiving partial assistance from mom and dad, it’s crucial that you know how to pay for college without your parents’ help. Here are seven steps to help you get started:

1. Fill out the FAFSA
2. Apply for scholarships
3. Get a part-time or full-time job
4. Look into tax credits for qualifying college expenses
5. Minimize your college costs
6. Research tuition assistance programs
7. Consider taking out federal student loans

7 ways to pay for college without your parents’ help

The average annual cost of college can range from $3,570 to $35,260, depending on the type of school you choose.

Although it’s hard to determine what percent of parents pay for college completely, Sallie Mae found in its 2019 “How America Pays for College” study that parents cover 43% of college costs through either income and savings or loans.

Regardless of how much you’ll owe for tuition, fees, materials and living expenses, figuring out how to pay for college without your parents’ help can help you get the education you need without falling into deep student loan debt. See how you can pay for college with the following options.

1. Fill out the FAFSA

On average, undergraduates received $9,520 in grant money during the 2018-2019 school year, according to College Board. The best way to qualify for grants and federal financial aid is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

For the most part, grants are awarded based on financial need, but some are also merit-based. Do your due diligence and learn about which grants you might qualify for and eligibility requirements you’ll need to meet.

2. Apply for scholarships

If you’ve earned it, you might qualify for an academic scholarship. Depending on your college of choice and your grades in high school, an academic scholarship could even cover the cost of tuition for your entire undergraduate degree.

If you don’t qualify for an academic scholarship out of high school, you can work toward becoming eligible for one during your first year in college. Also, keep an eye out for scholarships without GPA requirements.

You also can look to other organizations and companies for scholarship opportunities. The more time you spend researching your options and applying, the better your chances of getting more cash. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to apply for the Student Loan Hero $5,000 scholarship.

3. Get a part-time or full-time job

Working full-time while taking a full schedule of classes isn’t conducive to an active social life, but it would help you afford school and save some money.

With that said, it’s not always possible to maintain that kind of lifestyle, and working part-time might be more realistic. Part-time income probably wouldn’t be enough to cover all your expenses, but it might make a dent when combined with scholarships and grants.

There are often work opportunities on campus for college students. But if you have a car or access to public transportation, consider looking off campus for potentially higher-paying jobs.

4. Look into tax credits for qualifying college expenses

When you file your taxes, you have two options for tax credits available for qualifying college expenses.

American opportunity tax credit

The American opportunity tax credit (AOTC) offers a tax break of up to $2,500 per year based on your qualified education expenses. Qualified expenses include:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Books
  • Supplies
  • Equipment

You don’t have to buy your books, supplies and equipment from your school for the expenses to qualify.

You’ll get a credit of 100% of the first $2,000 in qualified expenses you incurred and 25% of the next $2,000. Keep in mind, though, that only 40% of it is refundable, up to $1,000. So if you get a tax refund, you could get up to $1,000 back from this credit alone.

Lifetime learning credit

The lifetime learning credit (LLC) is worth up to $2,000 — or 20% of the first $10,000 spent on qualified education expenses. This credit is nonrefundable, so it might not be worth trying for if you expect to get a refund.

Qualifying expenses include tuition, fees and other related expenses that are required for enrollment. That means books, supplies and equipment don’t qualify because they’re not required to attend your university. Also, your qualified expenses must be paid directly to the school.

To be clear, you can’t take advantage of both credits in the same year, so do the math to determine which one is better for you. Also, you can’t claim either credit if your parents plan to claim you as a dependent on their tax return. So double-check with them before you file.

5. Minimize your college costs

If you’re trying to figure out how to pay for college, bringing in more income isn’t always the best answer. For example, you might litter your college list with more affordable colleges or start at a community college and switch to a university later.

For smaller ways to cut back, create a budget and keep track of your spending. Each month, consider areas where you can cut back to make it easier to get by.

6. Research tuition assistance programs

If you’re interested in joining the armed forces, the sooner, the better. The Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard all offer tuition assistance programs. Most of them cover up to 100% of your tuition and fees.

Don’t do it just for the money, though. These programs are an investment for the military, so your chosen branch will require a certain number of years of service to qualify.

Alternatively, some other employers offer tuition assistance programs for their employees, even part-time employees. Keep that in mind when you’re looking for a job.

7. Consider taking out federal student loans

Federal student loans can help bridge the gap when other ways to pay for college don’t cover everything. What’s more, they don’t require a credit check, so you won’t need your parent’s credit history to take out a loan.

With features such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and income-driven repayment plans, you can access flexible repayment options after you graduate.

If, however, federal student loans aren’t enough to cover all your college costs, private student loans are another option. Make sure to take the time to compare several private student loan companies before choosing one.

For private loans, you might need a cosigner if you’re new to credit or don’t have a great credit history. If mom or dad won’t sign on for that responsibility, look into alternative cosigner candidates.

Learning how to pay for college without your parents can set you up for success

It can be stressful to learn that you’re on your own when it comes to paying for your college costs. But there are plenty of opportunities to make it work.

More importantly, learning how to pay for college on your own can help you establish good financial habits. When you graduate and enter the real world, these habits will help you become financially successful because you’ve learned how to make the most of the resources available to you.

In the meantime, check back in with your parents. After all, there are ways for mom and dad to help without opening their wallets.

Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

Need a student loan?

Check out our top picks below or learn more about other ways to pay for college.
Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

Variable APRDegrees That QualifyMore Info
2.75% – 10.65%1 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit SallieMae

2.84% – 10.97%2 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit College Ave

2.80% – 11.37%3 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit Discover

3.52% – 9.50%4 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit CommonBond

3.14% – 11.88%5 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit Ascent

2.72% – 10.98%6 Undergraduate
Graduate

VISIT CITIZENS