Overview: You Need Money for College? How to Pay for College Without Parents or Support

So, you have graduated high school and gotten in to the college of your choice. Well done! Now it’s time to start focusing on your future, but there is one small thing that you haven’t considered, and now, the burning thought on your mind is: “I need help paying for college.”  

You were so busy applying to schools that how you would pay for it never crossed your mind, and now you find yourself wondering, “Who will help me pay for college?” 

The good news is you aren’t alone, many of us need help paying for college, it’s just that some of us may need a little more help than others.

help paying for college

Image Source: How to Pay for College Without Support

The first place to look when you need help paying for college is your parents. Maybe your parents were awesome at saving for your education, or maybe their wealth is sufficient enough to pay all your expenses; in that case, you are one lucky kid.

But often we ask, “Can you help me pay for college?” we find it’s not the answer we were hoping for.

For many students, the path to college can be paved with stress and worry about how to pay for college without parents.  Finding the best way to pay for college without help from your parents can be difficult, but it is not impossible. In this article, we will outline how to get the help paying for college that you need.

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Federal Financial Aid

So, how do you pay for college? Your first and best option in getting the money to help pay for college will be federal financial support.  You don’t want to spend the rest of your life paying off a loan, you say?  While we will explore the loan option, there are also a lot of other paths to take that don’t end with you in debt.

But before you start looking at federal funding options, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FASFA.

The FAFSA should be your first step when you are looking for how to pay for college without parents. You and your parents or guardian will need to complete the FASFA together as your parents’ financial status and income will be considered during the application process.

Completing the FAFSA doesn’t mean your parents have to pay for your education expenses, it’s just a way to determine how much financial aid you will receive.  If you are still thinking, “Who will help me pay for college?” the FASFA is the beginning of answering that for you.

Once you have your FAFSA completed, you can start to look for the best way to pay for college. If you are looking for debt-free options, grants and scholarships are a great place to start. Both are considered “free money,” as you do not have to repay the money you receive.

If you are still saying “I need help paying for college!” you can apply for and receive grants from a variety of sources. There are federal and state grants and scholarships, as well as college, career school, private, and non-profit options as well.

Some private and non-profit donors might include requirements like writing an essay, so make sure you are prepared to write something that will wow your audience and land that scholarship money in your back pocket.

Let’s break down the federal grant options and look at the pros and cons for each one:

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Federal Pell Grant

Pell Grants can help those students wondering, “How can I pay for college?” Pell Grants can provide needed funds to get you started on your education with less debt and should always be an option when you find that you need help paying for college.


  • The Pell Grant is not a loan and does not need to be paid back.
  • It is typically awarded to undergraduate students who have not yet earned a degree.
  • You can currently receive a maximum award of $5,815 for the academic year running July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017.


  • The amount awarded is based on specific factors: financial need, cost of attendance, status (full or part-time student), and whether you are taking a full academic year or less (if not, this could lessen the amount received).
  • You can only receive Federal Pell Grant funds for one school at a time.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

The first step to access funds from the FSEOG is to make sure your FASFA is completed and sent in a timely manner.  This will allow your college to determine how much financial assistance to provide based on need.  When you need help paying for college, it is well worth the investment to explore every opportunity to ensure you have all the assistance you need.  The FSEOG can be a beneficial tool in paying your school expenses.


  • Like the Pell Grant, you do not need to repay the monies used to help paying for college expenses.
  • You can receive between $100 and $4,000 year based on your level of need.
  • You can use both the Pell and FSEOG funds to help pay for college expenses.


  • Unlike the Pell Grant, not everyone is guaranteed to receive funds; each participating school receives a certain amount each year from the Department of Education, and once the full amount is dispersed, no more funds will be made available that year.
  • Not all schools participate in the FSEOG, so if you are in need of help paying for college, you will want to contact the financial aid office of your school to see what options are available for you.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant

The TEACH grant differs from the Pell and FSEOG as it will require you to take certain classes in order to receive funds from the grant.  There are also job requirements that you will need to meet to keep the grant; should you not fulfill those requirements, the TEACH grant will work as a loan that must be repaid.


  • The TEACH Grant can provide you with up to $4,000 per year if you plan to complete course work needed to pursue a teaching career.
  • TEACH grants also support post-baccalaureate and graduate level degrees.


  • The TEACH Grant requires a certain set of classes to be taken in order to get the grant. If you are not committed to a career in teaching, this may not be the right option to help in paying for college.
  • You will need to commit to the terms of the TEACH Grant service obligation, and if you fail to meet the terms, your grant will be converted into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan that you must repay in full with interest.

It is important you research and read all of the terms of a TEACH Grant before applying.

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Image Source: You Need Money for College?

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Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

This grant option provides funds to help pay for college or career school expenses.  However, this grant has specific eligibility requirements. If your parent or guardian was a member of the U.S. Armed Forces died as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11 and you were under the age of 24 or in enrolled in college (part- or full-time) at the time of your parent’s or guardian’s death, you may be eligible for Iraq and Afghanistan Serve Grant.

This grant is helpful when you aren’t sure how to pay for college without parents.


  • If you meet the eligibility requirements and are not eligible for a Pell Grant due to your Expected Family Contribution, the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant could assist you with help paying for your college expenses.
  • The amount awarded is equal to the amount of the Pell Grant for the award year.


  • The requirements for this grant are very specific and may not fit your specific financial needs.
  • Due to sequestration, there are reductions in the amount of dispersed funds during specific time periods.  The amount will be reduced by 6.8 percent between October 1, 2015, and October 1, 2016, and by 6.9 percent between October 1, 2016, and October 7, 2017.

Additionally, there are a variety of state and school-specific grants and scholarships that can provide the help you need paying for college. Paying a visit to your school’s financial aid office can help you learn more about these local options. 

Federal Student Loans

Even with the grants and scholarships you may receive, you will likely still end up in need of help paying for college. One of the options you may be offered after completing your FASFA are federal student loans.  These loans can be concerning, as we hear lots of stories about people leaving college with significant amounts of debt, but it’s an option you should consider if you are paying for college without a parent’s support.

With all loans, it is important that you understand the terms and conditions of the lender before entering into a financial contract. Student loans can be provided by the federal government or by private institutions, so when you need help paying for college, it is important to review every loan option.

Federal student loans typically have lower interest rates and tend to be more flexible when setting repayment terms. This option is one of the best ways to pay for college if you know you will need to pursue a loan.

Federal student loans are provided by the U.S. Department of Education. There are two programs offered: the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program and the Federal Perkins Loan Program.  How much you need to pay for college will determine which loan will work best for you. 

Let’s take a deeper dive into these programs and see which one is the best way to pay for college.

William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program: this program is the larger of the two, and the Department of Education acts as your lender. The loans offered under this program are considered Direct Loans, as they are provided by and managed by the Department of Education.

There are four different direct loan options under the Direct Loan program:

These loans are for undergraduate students who are eligible and in need of financial

Unsubsidized loans are for eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These loans do not require financial need for eligibility.

This loan is provided to graduate or professional of students and parents of dependent undergraduate students for expenses not covered by other financial aid options.

This loan option allows you to consolidate all federal loans that are eligible into one loan with one lender.

This program is school-based and used to provide undergraduate and graduate students who have a very high level of financial need. Under the Perkins Loan Program, the school is the lender.

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It can be unsettling to not know how you are going to finance your education, and it can be terrifying when you know you need help paying for college. But if you work with the financial aid office at your school, you can put together a comprehensive plan that will allow you to worry less and enjoy your college years. 

It is worth the time invested to review your options and figure out the best way to pay for college for your personal situation.

With the right information, you can go from, “I need money for college” to having the money you need to finance your education. Knowing how to pay for college without parents will give you the confidence you need to be successful.

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