I’m paying for college without my parents’ help. What are my options?


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Finding the resources to pay for college can be a challenge, and if you’re embarking on this journey alone, it can be stressful. Here are some tips that can help you navigate the process and make it feel less overwhelming.

Choosing the Right College

The best college for your situation will likely be one that provides the programs you need to achieve your career goals and has a price tag that 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

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Living at Home

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

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Considering Private vs Public Colleges

Public colleges are, generally speaking, less expensive than private colleges. Tuition and fees for the 2022-2023 academic year averaged $39,400 at private colleges and $28,240 at public colleges (for out-of-state residents). 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 $10,940.

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

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Starting at a Community College

Completing your first two years of study at a community college is another option that could dramatically reduce the overall cost of college. In addition to less expensive courses, it may be possible for you to live at home, which can cut costs even more. You might then transfer to a four-year college, allowing you to get a degree from that school without paying for the cost for all four years.

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Applying for Relevant Scholarships

Because scholarships don’t typically need to be repaid, they are a valuable tool 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, you’ll want to be sure to find quality opportunities and be wary of scams. Also, 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. Some scholarships may be location-based. Check out SoFi’s state-by-state financial aid guides for more information on scholarships local to your home state.

When you find a college scholarship of interest, check the guidelines carefully to ensure you qualify. Also be sure to follow the application instructions carefully, and submit your forms as early as possible within the timeline. Although you can often reuse parts of one scholarship application to complete another, each opportunity typically has unique requirements, formats, and deadlines.

(Learn more at Student Loan Payment Calculator

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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, and one of the best known is 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 underrepresented 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 because most federal grants require students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which, if you are a dependent student, 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.

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Applying for Student Loans

As mentioned, 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. This may include funding from both the federal government and private lenders.

Applying for Federal Student Loans

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.

Applying for Private Student Loans

You can also apply for private student loans, although, if you don’t have much or any credit history, you may need a cosigner. Private lenders generally evaluate a potential borrower’s credit history, among other factors, as they make their lending decisions. Adding a cosigner with a strong credit history could potentially help secure a more competitive interest rate. If you aren’t able to find a cosigner, it is possible to apply for a student loan without a cosigner.

Another important note is that private student loans may not offer borrower protections like those offered to federal student loan borrowers, such as the option to apply for Public Services Loan Forgiveness. For this reason, private student loans are generally borrowed as a last resort option.

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.

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Cutting Costs While Attending College

Smart budgeting and careful spending can help you stay in line with your means as you pay for college. Cutting costs when possible could allow you to save or funnel more money toward college tuition.

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.

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. Watch for a slow cooker at rummage sales, and you can cook plenty of delicious soups and more.

To cut costs on textbooks, 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.

(Learn more at Student Loan Refinancing Calculator).

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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.

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The Takeaway

Students who are planning on paying for college without their parents’ help can start by choosing an affordable college option, applying for scholarships, getting a part-time job, and applying for federal student aid. As a dependent student, applying for federal aid may be challenging without your parent’s support, because the FAFSA may be considered incomplete without their information.

In the event that other avenues of funding have been depleted, students may consider private student loans, keeping in mind that private student loans don’t always have the same borrower protections as federal student loans.

This article originally appeared on SoFi.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: 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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