7 Ways You Can Pay for College Without Your Parents’ Help

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As the second-youngest of six kids, it was clear to me long before I graduated from high school that my parents wouldn’t be able to help me pay for college. Even if my parents would’ve helped, chances are I would’ve been on the hook for the majority of my expenses.

So whether you’re like me and plan to make it work on your own or your parents are footing part of the bill, it’s crucial that you know how to pay for college without your parents’ help. Here are seven ways you can get started.

7 ways to pay for college without your parents’ help

The average annual cost of college can range from $3,520 to $33,480, 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 2017 “How America Pays for College” study that parents cover 31 percent 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 $8,440 in grant money during the 2016-2017 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.

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

During my first two years of college, I worked full time in addition to a full schedule of classes. It wasn’t conducive to an active social life, but it made it possible for me to afford school and save some money.

But it’s not always possible to maintain that kind of lifestyle, and I ended up working part time for the second half of college. My part-time income wasn’t enough to cover all my expenses, but it made a huge difference combined with the scholarships and grants I received.

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 up of 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 percent of the first $2,000 in qualified expenses you incurred and 25 percent of the next $2,000. Keep in mind, though, that only 40 percent 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 percent 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 choose a more affordable college 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 percent 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. You also might need a cosigner if you’re new to credit or don’t have a great credit history.

Learning how to pay for college 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.

Interested in a personal loan?

Here are the top personal loan lenders of 2018!
LenderAPR RangeLoan Amount 
1 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Personal LoansFixed rates from 7.08% APR to 15.37% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 5.81% APR to 14.11% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of August 10, 2018 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. See APR examples and terms. Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at 14.95%. Lowest variable rate of 5.81% APR assumes current 1-month LIBOR rate of 2.07% plus 4.175% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.
  2. Minimum Credit Score: Not all applicants who meet SoFi’s minimum credit score requirements are approved for a personal loan. In addition to meeting SoFi’s minimum eligibility criteria, applicants must also meet other credit and underwriting requirements to qualify.
  3. SoFi Personal Loans are not available to residents of MS. Maximum interest rate on loans for residents of AK and WY is 9.99% APR, for residents of IL with loans over $40,000 is 8.99% APR, for residents of TX is 9.99% APR on terms greater than 5 years, for residents of CO, CT, HI, VA, SC is 11.99% APR, and for residents of ME is 12.24% APR. Personal loans not available to residents of MI who already have a student loan with SoFi. Personal Loans minimum loan amount is $5,000. Residents of AZ, MA, and NH have a minimum loan amount of $10,001. Residents of KY have a minimum loan amount of $15,001. Residents of PA have a minimum loan amount of $25,001. Variable rates not available to residents of AK, TX, VA, WY, or for residents of IL for loans greater than $40,000.
  4. Terms and Conditions ApplySOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS #1121636.
    (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

2 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for Payoff.

Payoff Disclosures

  1. All loans are subject to credit review and approval. Your actual rate depends upon credit score, loan amount, loan term, credit usage and history. Currently loans are not offered in: MA, MS, NE, NV, OH, and WV.

3 Important Disclosures for FreedomPlus.

FreedomPlus Disclosures

  1. All loans available through FreedomPlus.com are made by Cross River Bank, a New Jersey State Chartered Commercial Bank, Member FDIC, Equal Housing Lender. All loan and rate terms are subject to eligibility restrictions, application review, credit score, loan amount, loan term, lender approval, and credit usage and history. Eligibility for a loan is not guaranteed. Loans are not available to residents of all states – please call a FreedomPlus representative for further details. The following limitations, in addition to others, shall apply: FreedomPlus does not arrange loans in: (i) Arizona under $10,500; (ii) Massachusetts under $6,500, (iii) Ohio under $5,500, and (iv) Georgia under $3,500. Repayment periods range from 24 to 60 months. The range of APRs on loans made available through FreedomPlus is 4.99% to a maximum of 29.99%. APR. The APR calculation includes all applicable fees, including the loan origination fee. For Example, a four year $20,000 loan with an interest rate of 15.49% and corresponding APR of 18.34% would have an estimated monthly payment of $561.60 and a total cost payable of $7,948.13. To qualify for a 4.99% APR loan, a borrower will need excellent credit on a loan of $15,000 with a term of 24 months, and qualify for at least two of the following discounts: (1) add a co-borrower who has sufficient income; (2) use at least fifty percent of the loan proceeds to directly pay off existing debt; or (3) show proof of having at least forty-thousand dollars in retirement savings – contact FreedomPlus for further details.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Personal Loan Rate DisclosureFixed interest rates from 6.49% – 19.49% (6.49% – 19.49% APR) based on applicable terms. Lowest rates range from 5.99%-18.99% (5.99%-18.99% APR), are for eligible applicants, require a 3-year repayment term, and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
  2. Loyalty Discount: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower has submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, student loans or other personal loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI and VT. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) disclosed in the Truth-In-Lending Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan, and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  3. Automatic Payment Discount: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their Citizens Bank Personal Loan during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account two or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.

5 Important Disclosures for LendingPoint.

LendingPoint Disclosures

  • Loan approval is not guaranteed. Actual loan offers and loan amounts, terms and annual percentage rates (“APR”) may vary based upon LendingPoint’s proprietary scoring and underwriting system’s review of your credit, financial condition, other factors, and supporting documents or information you provide. Origination or other fees from 0% to 6% may apply depending upon your state of residence. Upon LendingPoint’s final underwriting approval to fund a loan, said funds are often sent via ACH the next non-holiday business day. LendingPoint makes loan offers from $2,000 to $25,000, at rates ranging from a low of 15.49% APR to a high of 34.49% APR, with terms from 24 to 48 months. The loan offer(s) shown reflect a 28 day payment cycle which is being offered as a courtesy as many of our customers are paid on a biweekly schedule and thus this may better align the loan payment dates with your actual income receipt schedule.

6 Important Disclosures for LendingClub.

LendingClub Disclosures

All loans made by WebBank, Member FDIC. Your actual rate depends upon credit score, loan amount, loan term, and credit usage & history. The APR ranges from 6.16% to 35.89%. For example, you could receive a loan of $6,000 with an interest rate of 7.99% and a 5.00% origination fee of $300 for an APR of 11.51%. In this example, you will receive $5,700 and will make 36 monthly payments of $187.99. The total amount repayable will be $6,767.64. Your APR will be determined based on your credit at time of application. The origination fee ranges from 1% to 6% and the average origination fee is 5.49% as of Q1 2017. There is no down payment and there is never a prepayment penalty. Closing of your loan is contingent upon your agreement of all the required agreements and disclosures on the www.lendingclub.com website. All loans via LendingClub have a minimum repayment term of 36 months or longer.


7 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Earnest does not lend in Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada, or Rhode Island.

8 Important Disclosures for Avant.

Avant Disclosures

* The actual rate and loan amount that a customer qualifies for may vary based on credit determination and other factors. Funds are generally deposited via ACH for delivery next business day if approved by 4:30pm CT Monday-Friday. Avant branded credit products are issued by WebBank, member FDIC.

** Example: A $5,700 loan with an administration fee of 4.75% and an amount financed of $5,429.25, repayable in 36 monthly installments, would have an APR of 29.95% and monthly payments of $230.33


* Important Disclosures for Upgrade Bank.

Upgrade Bank Disclosures

* Your loan terms are not guaranteed and are subject to our verification and review process. You may be asked to provide additional documents to enable us to verify your income and your identity. This rate includes an Autopay APR reduction of 0.5%. By enrolling in Autopay your payments will be automatically deducted from you bank account. Selecting Autopay is optional. Annual Percentage Rate is inclusive of a loan origination fee, which is deducted from the loan proceeds. Late payments or subsequent charges and fees may increase the cost of your fixed rate loan. All loans made by WebBank, member FDIC. Please refer to Upgrade’s Terms of Use and Borrower Agreement for all terms, conditions and requirements.

** Accept your loan offer and your funds will be sent to your bank via ACH within one (1) business day of clearing necessary verifications. Availability of the funds is dependent on how quickly your bank processes this transaction. From the time of approval, funds should be available within four (4) business days.

7.73% – 29.99%$1,000 - $50,000Visit Upstart
5.81% – 15.37%1$5,000 - $100,000Visit SoFi
6.87% – 35.97%*$1,000 - $50,000Visit Upgrade
8.00% – 25.00%2$5,000 - $35,000Visit Payoff
4.99% – 29.99%3$10,000 - $35,000Visit FreedomPlus
5.99% – 18.99%4$5,000 - $50,000Visit Citizens
15.49% – 34.49%5$2,000 - $25,000Visit LendingPoint
6.16% – 35.89%6$1,000 - $40,000Visit LendingClub
5.49% – 18.24%7$5,000 - $75,000Visit Earnest
9.95% – 35.99%8$2,000 - $35,000Visit Avant
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. 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 understand what you are buying, and consult 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. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.