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How to Pay for College When You Don’t Have Money in 10 Steps
When it comes time to apply for college, students without a comfortable financial situation are at a significant disadvantage. If you match this description, you may be wondering how to pay for college without a comfortable sum of money saved up. It may seem like a daunting task, but rest assured, there are answers. Here’s our guide to how to pay for college with no money.
We’ve broken up our guide into 10 steps. While some of the advice may not suit your financial or life situation, you should go through the entire checklist. Don’t stop after completing just a few of the tasks. It’s a good idea to tap each resource for as much as you can.
1. Apply for scholarships
If you have no money, one of the very first things you should do is apply for scholarships! There are scholarships available for students in any situation; you just have to get out there and look. We have a host of resources available to match students with scholarships. Try making an easy, free account so we can match you with custom scholarships.
If you are a student with no money, you could find a good match in several of our scholarship guides! Check out just a few of our guides below!
Once you’ve found a good fit, your next step is to apply. We can help you through that process with guides on:
- How to write a 250 or 500 word essay
- How to write a winning scholarship essay
- How to write an essay about yourself
2. Apply for in-state public college
In-state public college is typically one of the most affordable college options for students with no money. Public colleges offer significantly reduced tuition to in-state students. For example, the University of Indiana at Bloomington has a 2023-2024 annual sticker price of $28,900 for Indiana residents. Note that this price includes room and board, then compare it to a $57,590 price for out-of-state students.
If you are a student with no money, you’ll probably receive substantial financial aid on top of the in-state discount. While $28,900 is no small sum, it is significantly less than the out-of-state price. After you receive your financial aid package, you have a much better chance of affording a public in-state college.
3. Check whether you fill out the FAFSA as an independent student
If you have no money because you are not receiving any support from your parents, you may be eligible to fill out the FAFSA as an independent student. If you do this, you won’t have to report your parents’ income or assets. This can be hugely beneficial to your financial aid package.
Keep in mind, the requirements for submitting the FAFSA as an independent are extremely strict. Many students are unable to fill out the FAFSA as an independent, even if their parents don’t help with their education.
4. Apply to need-blind schools that meet 100% of demonstrated need
When applying for college, make sure to apply to schools that have a higher chance of meeting your financial need. It’s a good idea to apply to schools that promise to meet 100% of admitted students’ demonstrated financial need. This means that once they receive your FAFSA and/or CSS Profile, they will determine how much aid you need, and offer all of that aid in their financial aid award letter.
Some schools consider financial need in their admissions process. This means, if they see that you will require substantial financial aid, they are less likely to offer you admission. So, if you are a student with no money and require substantial aid, these schools will be more difficult. Their admissions officers will weigh the reduced tuition you would pay, and be less likely to admit you. In order to avoid this disadvantage, make sure to also apply to need-blind schools. This means that admissions officers will not consider financial need in their decisions.
5. Get a work-study or campus job
Getting a job on campus can also help you to pay for college with no money. You can start by looking for an online job or a tutoring job. You can also work with your financial aid department to find a work-study job. There are lots of opportunities out there for college students to earn money. Don’t rely too heavily on working during college though; compared to the overall cost of education, your earnings will not be very substantial. Working through school only works in conjunction with a strong financial aid package, scholarships, and/or student loans.
Also see: Is work-study worth it?
6. Make a strong budget
Once you’re in college, you’ll want to make a firm budget and stick with it. You can go a long way by minimizing unnecessary expenses. Cooking at home, limiting unnecessary shopping, and buying your necessities secondhand can all help. You can work to save money on textbooks and give yourself designated funds for all your necessities.
7. Save money on housing
If you are on a tight budget, a great way to cut costs is saving money on your housing. You can look into off-campus housing as an option. Especially in small towns, it is often more affordable than college housing. Another great way to save money is to become an RA. It’s hard work, but easily one of the highest-paying jobs for students. Typically, you will receive free housing and be paid on top of it.
Also see: How to pay for housing
8. Community College
If you already have a specific college in mind that you want to attend, we know it can be hard to have to consider not going there, but here us out. Community college can be a great place to start your college career! It is a very cost effective way to help you get where you want to go.
Transferring from community colleges is quite common. So, it may just be a matter of starting at a community college and then moving on to your dream school. We highly recommend you check out community college. In some states, it’s even becoming free for residents, and you can’t beat free college!
9. Consider college alternatives
Despite all of these tips, college may simply not be a feasible option for students who lack money. If you fall in this camp, don’t despair. There are other options out there. You can even obtain other credentials with the ultimate plan to earn your college degree in the future.
Our list of college alternatives includes options such as:
Programs like these take up only a fraction of the money and time that traditional college takes. Of course, these options are no substitute for a 4-year college education, but they can help you earn a high-paying job. You can work at that job for a few years to save up to attend college at a later date. You may be intent on attending college now, but the reality is, that isn’t a feasible option for some. Keep your eye on the prize, and soon enough, you’ll be wearing a cap and gown!
10. Consider taking out loans
If you are a student with no money, taking out some degree of loans will probably be unavoidable. As you search for loans, remember that all loans are not created equal! Try to prioritize federal loans as best you can. They typically have the best interest rates and most flexible repayment terms. You’ll want to look into Stafford loans first.
As you investigate loans, be sure to consult our guides to help you make the best decisions. Check out our guide to applying for federal and private loans. And, since student loan terminology can be confusing, you may want to look at our guide to understanding student loan definitions.
Also see: How much student loan debt is too much?
If you are trying to pay for college with no money, you have a tough task ahead of you. But remember, it can be done. Make sure to consider each option on our list in order to maximize your chances and graduate with minimal debt. Once again, here’s our list of steps for how to pay for college with no money:
- Apply for scholarships
- Apply for in-state public college
- Look into filling out the FAFSA as an independent student
- Apply to need-blind schools that meet 100% of demonstrated need
- Get a work-study or campus job
- Make a strong budget
- Consider taking out loans
- Save money on housing
- If all else fails, consider college alternatives
Frequently asked questions about how to pay for college when you don’t have money
What can I do if my parents won’t pay for college?
What is the maximum FAFSA will give?
What is the easiest way to pay for college?
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