How to Pay for College Without Parents

Girl standing on a college campus holding a notebook

How to Pay for College Without Parents

Published February 25, 2023

Girl standing on a college campus holding a notebook

This story was first published in our Paying for College 101 (PFC101) Facebook community. It’s been edited for clarity and flow. 

Paying for college and navigating the financial aid process can be daunting, especially for students who are planning to do it on their own. A member of our PFC 101 community asked parents: 

  • What do we need to do if our high school senior will be responsible for their own college tuition and expenses? 
  • How do we let schools and FAFSA know this? 

Here are the highlights of what our members said: 

Fill Out the FAFSA 

Filling out the FAFSA does not mean a parent must pay for their child’s education. Even if parents won’t be contributing financially, they should fill out the FAFSA. Here’s why:

Not filling out the form could disqualify students from federal financial aid. As Ella K. said, “if you can’t afford to help, once you complete the FAFSA, your child will be eligible for need-based aid.”

“That (who is paying for college) is an agreement between you and your child. The schools and FAFSA don’t handle your information or your financial aid offer differently because of your intention that the student will cover all expenses.” – Stewart G. 

“What you can do after filling it out is help your student choose an affordable path…” – Amanda R.

Help Your Student Pick Affordable Options

Parents said students should have an idea of what they can afford if they’re doing this alone. Different types of education have different price tags. For example, trade schools are typically less expensive than a four-year private school

“Setting a reasonable budget and targeting schools in that range will be critical if parents won’t be contributing.” – Shannon M. 

“You only apply to schools that fit your student’s budget.” – Kenneth C. 

Several parents suggested community college as a good option to start with. Becky H. said that to save money, students could look at options such as living at home for a couple of years to save on room and board. 

Many parents suggested that if a child is financially responsible for college, they should be well informed about the financial responsibilities. 

“Hopefully your senior and you have had this conversation over the years, so that your student isn’t surprised and is prepared for this new chapter in their life.” – Diana V. 

Let the School Know

A few parents suggested that it isn’t a bad idea to let the schools know the situation early on. 

“Most schools have a per-semester payment plan, like five monthly payments. But you have to sign up early. Talk with the financial aid office at prospective schools.” – Wendy C. 

Jessica L. noted that “many colleges are willing to work with the kids, but they need to know.”

Bottom Line 

College is expensive and a major investment. If parents are unable to contribute financially to their child’s education, they should still fill out the FAFSA form. It’s also important to make sure students are well-informed when making financial decisions about college. These decisions will impact their future for years to come. 

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