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How to Pay for College Without Parents Helping Out

Paying for college can be tough — especially if you don’t have financial assistance from family. Fortunately, you have several options to pay for education.

May 6, 2022

It’s estimated that 42% of Americans over the age of 25 have a college degree. While a college education can be extremely valuable for getting a higher-paying job, there’s no denying it can be quite expensive.

Nationwide, the average yearly cost per student is $35,331. Tuition, textbooks, room and board and other living expenses add up fast. While some college students have financial assistance from their guardians, this isn’t the case for all.

If you’re seeking financial aid for higher education, there are several options to cover college costs of education on your own.

College alternatives

There are several potential options for paying for college on your own. Aside from understanding how to pay for college without parents’ help, you may also consider whether you need a four-year degree from a private college to achieve your career goals.

For example, state schools are often more affordable, particularly for in-state residents. Or, you could enroll at a community college to complete an associates degree at a lower cost, and transfer to a university to finish your bachelor’s degree.

Depending on your career plans, you may not need to go to college at all. Trade schools can offer certifications and training for specific career paths. Carefully study your options so you can find what makes sense for you.


Filling out FAFSA

If you plan on attending a four-year school, one of the most important things you can do is fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The FAFSA helps college students determine their eligibility for federal financial aid. 

This form requires a student’s:

  • Demographic information

  • Financial information

  • In some cases, parent’s financial information

To qualify for FAFSA, you must be a U.S. citizen with a high school diploma or GED, or be actively working towards a diploma with a certain number of credits each school year.

To determine financial aid eligibility, the government typically uses tax return data and a questionnaire. Most undergrads are considered dependent students, even if they aren’t receiving financial assistance from their families. You can still be claimed as a dependent student as an undergraduate even if you don’t live at home or are receiving financial assistance. As such, you must submit both your own financial data and that of their parents. 

However, depending on your circumstances, you may be considered an independent student, if you’re:

  • Over the age of 24

  • A veteran

  • Married 

  • Enrolled in a master’s or doctorate program

In this case, you’ll only report your own financial information — not your parents.

After filing a FAFSA, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that tells you what type of aid you qualify for. Many types of aid are distributed first-come, first-serve, so apply as soon as possible. Applications open October 1 every year.

Financial aid options

Here are some of the financial aid options you may be able to use to help you pay for college.


Scholarships are free money to put towards your education that you don’t have to pay back.Scholarships should be the first thing you look into for help paying college tuition — and you may not even need to fill out a FAFSA to apply. 

College scholarships may be made available from the school based on factors like your high schoolGPA and test scores. These scholarships can often be renewed at the end of the academic year based on  classroom performance. Need-based financial aid scholarships may also be available through your college’s financial aid office.

There are also many organizations that provide scholarships based on:

  • Financial need

  • Volunteering or hobbies

  • Essay contests 

If you can think of a reason to offer a scholarship, there’s probably an organization providing it. Free online tools like Sallie Mae’s Scholarship Search and make it simple to search for millions of potential scholarships.

There’s no limit to the number of scholarships you can apply for. Even a small scholarship can help offset college expenses.

Federal grants

Individuals with financial need will often qualify for Pell Grants and/or the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): 

Additional government grants include the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant as well as the TEACH Grant. 

The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant is available to students who had a parent or guardian who died as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11. Students must have been younger than 24 or enrolled in college at the time their parent or guardian died. You only qualify for the Service Grant if you don’t qualify for a Pell Grant because of your Expected Family Contribution but meet all other eligibility requirements.

The TEACH Grant offers grants of up to $4,000 for students who commit to work for four years as a full-time teacher in a high-needs field at a school serving low-income students. They must meet the four-year requirement within eight years after graduation. 

Like scholarships, grants are free money. They don’t count as taxable income, and you don’t have to pay them back.

Work-study programs

Work-study programs are another potential type of aid you might qualify for after filing your FAFSA. Through the Federal Work-Study program, you can join qualifying work programs at your college to obtain part-time work to help cover the cost of attendance. 

In work-study programs, the federal government subsidizes the employer to ensure they hire students with financial need. These programs pertain to campus jobs only. Common jobs under these programs include:

  • Tutors

  • Library assistants 

  • Other on-campus roles

Of course, you aren’t limited to work-study programs to earn extra money at college. Any part-time job can help offset your living expenses, regardless of FAFSA outcomes.

With classes and studying, you probably won’t have time for a full-time job. However, working a part-time job can make the cost of college much more manageable, no matter what your financial situation might look like. 

You can arrange your work and class schedules in a way that avoids potential conflicts with a part-time job. A paid internship could also provide valuable career experience related to your degree.

Student loans

Finally, there are student loans. There are several types of student loans available, though all must be repaid.

There are two types of federal student loans that you may qualify for after filing a FAFSA:

  • Subsidized loans are need-based. The federal government pays your interest fees while you are enrolled at school, helping reduce the total amount of money you owe on the loan. 

  • Unsubsidized loans are available to almost all students, as they aren’t need-based. Interest on these loans starts accruing once the money goes to your account, increasing the total lifetime cost of the loan.

Both subsidized and unsubsidized student loans use fixed interest rates, which won’t change over the course of the loan period.

Private student loans and personal loans are also available to cover college costs beyond a federal student loan. Banks and other financial institutions offer private student loans. Private loans don’t require a FAFSA. As a result, they also don’t have borrowing limits set by FAFSA. Private lenders will look at factors like your credit score and income when determining loan eligibility.

Know your options

From grants and scholarships to student loans and work-study programs, there are more ways to pay for college than you might think. Covering college expenses without your parents’ help may require some extra work, but getting a degree is certainly doable.

If you need to free up cash to help pay for college, it may be time to tackle your credit card debt. The Tally† credit card payoff app can help. With Tally’s lower-interest line of credit, you can consolidate your card balances into a single payment and get your finances on track.

To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. The APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% and 29.99% per year and will be based on your credit history. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.