What to Do When You or Your Parents Can’t Afford CollegeMarch 23, 2021
It’s no secret that going to college is expensive. With tuition on the rise, many people think higher education is simply out of reach. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 33% of high school juniors said they believed that college was unaffordable.
However, there may be options available that can make the expense more manageable if you don’t have your parents paying for college. If you can’t afford college right now, keep reading for a few tips that may help.
7 Ways to Pay for School if You Can’t Afford College
If you don’t have enough money to pay for college, don’t give up; there are several financial aid programs and cost-cutting measures you can try:
1. Fill out the FAFSA
If you’re thinking, “my parents can’t afford college,” completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an essential first step in finding financing options for college. However, many people skip filling it out because of misinformation.
In the Department of Education’s 2018 survey of high school students, 24% of respondents said they didn’t complete the FAFSA. The most common reasons for not completing it were because they thought their family was ineligible for aid, did not have enough information to submit the application, or thought the process would be too time-consuming.
However, the Office of Federal Student Aid reported that most people complete the FAFSA online in less than an hour.
The FAFSA isn’t used just for federal student loans; it’s also what the government, schools, and organizations use to determine your eligibility for valuable financial aid programs.
2. Apply for Grants
When it comes to paying for college, grants are an incredibly useful tool. They’re a form of gift aid, so they generally don’t have to be repaid. They’re usually need-based, so you can qualify if you meet the grant program’s income requirements.
Grants are issued by federal and state governments, colleges, and non-profit organizations. For example:
- Federal Pell Grant: With a Pell Grant, low-income undergraduate students can receive up to $6,495 for the 2021-2022 award year. Unlike loans, Pell Grants don’t have to be repaid.
- Washington College Grant: In Washington state, low- and middle-income students may qualify for the Washington College Grant. The maximum award covers full tuition at approved in-state public universities or a comparable amount at approved private colleges.
- Douglas Turner Grant: At the University of Florida, undergraduate students with exceptional financial needs can receive $200 to $5,000 per academic year through the Douglas Turner Grant program.
For more grant opportunities, visit your state education agency, contact your college’s financial aid office, and use tools like Unigo to find grants offered by companies and non-profit organizations.
3. Search for Scholarships
Like grants, scholarships don’t have to be repaid. However, they are usually awarded based on merit rather than financial need or are designed to help people in specific situations.
For example, if you’re trying to figure out how to afford college with a family, there are scholarships available for parents. The Bethel Foundation Grace Scholarship Fund provides single mothers with up to $1,500 in financial assistance per semester. To qualify, applicants must be at or near the poverty level for their family size.
- Scholarships for Black & African American Students
- Scholarships for Adults Returning to College
- Scholarships for Latino & Hispanic Students
4. Consider a Work-Study Program
Work-study programs are an often-overlooked form of financial aid. But if you can’t afford college, they can be a great way to cover some of your costs.
With a work-study program, students with financial needs work part-time jobs related to their fields. Jobs can be on-campus or off, and you can use your earnings to pay for your tuition and other fees.
Contact your college’s financial aid office to see if the school participates in the federal work-study initiative.
5. Pick a Different School
While you may have your heart set on a certain school, cost is a huge factor, and how much you spend on college can have a significant impact on your life long after you graduate.
If you can’t afford your dream school, consider attending a public university instead. Or, you can attend a community college for the first two years and transfer to your dream college to finish your degree — dramatically reducing your education costs.
According to The College Board, the average private non-profit college costs $37,650 per year. By contrast, a public in-state university costs $10,560, and the average community college is just $3,770.
6. Commute to College
Tuition and fees only make up a small portion of your education expenses. If you decide to live on campus, room and board can substantially add to your cost of attendance.
At a public four-year school, room and board costs average $11,620 per year. At a private school, the cost jumps to $13,120 per year. If you graduate within four years, room and board can add over $50,000 to your overall education expenses.
If possible, living with your parents or family members and commuting to school can be an excellent way to save money. Even if you pay rent and utilities, it will likely be cheaper than the dorms, and you can prepare your own food instead of paying for a pricey college meal plan.
If you’re a parent and asking yourself, “how can I afford college for my child?” — allowing your child to live at home while they’re in school and accepting reduced rent can be a huge help.
7. Explore Student Loan Options
After you’ve reduced your education expenses and explored potential scholarship and grant opportunities, you might find that you still need money to pay for some of your college expenses. If that’s the case, student loans can fill the gap.
As an undergraduate student, you can take out federal Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans. However, there are limits on how much you can borrow in federal loans each year and over your lifetime. Depending on what year you’re in and your dependency status, the maximum you can borrow ranges from $5,500 to $12,500 per year.
If you need additional money to pay for school, private student loans can help cover the remaining cost. With ELFI, you can borrow up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance – and work with a Personal Loan Advisor throughout the process.*
You can use the Find My Rate tool to get a student loan rate quote without affecting your credit score.