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    What if My Parents Refuse to Pay for College or Complete the FAFSA?

    By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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    and Cece Gilmore

    Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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    Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

    Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: May 16th, 2024
    What if My Parents Refuse to Pay for College or Complete the FAFSA?

    Applying for school can be a frustrating and painful process if your parents refuse to pay for college. College is a huge expense, and without the help of your parents, it can seem like a daunting task. Luckily, there are some options out there for students whose parents won’t or can’t contribute to their education costs. 

    Whether you are looking to go to college immediately or make plans to attend in a few years, we’ve got you covered. We’ll go over some options that might make college affordable right now. But we’ll also discuss options to save up and attend college in a few years. For some students, attending college immediately may not be feasible without financial parental support. If this is your situation, you can start saving and planning now in order to set yourself up for success.

    File the FAFSA as an independent student

    If your parents or guardians refuse to pay for college, your best options may be to file the FAFSA as an independent. Independent filers are not required to include information about their parents’ income or assets. As a result, your Student Aid Index number will be very low and you will probably get a generous financial aid offer. 

    Eligibility requirements for filing independently

    Unfortunately, there are strict eligibility requirements for students under 24 who file independently. The fact that your parents won’t pay for your college isn’t sufficient to justify independent status. Even financial independence from your parents does not justify eligibility. There are a set of paths to eligibility, including marriage, time spent in foster care, or having dependent children. If you don’t qualify for any of these, you will be unable to file independently until you turn 24.

    Applying for a dependency override

    If you are not eligible to complete the FAFSA as an independent student and are not able to convince your parents to fill out their portion of the FAFSA, you may be able to apply for a dependency override. A dependency override is a process that varies across colleges and often requires written evidence from several sources explaining why a student is unable to provide their parents’ financial information. A dependency override is most often used in cases where the relationship between the student and parent is absent, neglectful, or abusive. If this situation applies to you, when filling out the FAFSA you should indicate that you have special circumstances that make you unable to provide the necessary information and contact your college’s financial aid office to explain your situation and determine what your next steps are. 

    Convince your parents to fill out the FAFSA

    If you cannot file the FAFSA as an independent, you should try to convince your parents to fill it out. Even if they refuse to contribute to your tuition, they can help you by submitting their financial information. If they refuse to submit the FAFSA, they will disqualify you from almost every form of federal financial aid. This includes subsidized and unsubsidized loans and the Pell Grant.

    One of the misconceptions about parents and guardians filling out the FAFSA is that they are legally bound to pay for their child’s education. This is not true and will simply prevent the student from accessing financial aid.

    Luckily, you only need your custodial parent’s information for the FAFSA. So, if your parents are divorced, you won’t need to convince each of them to fill it out. You can also remind them that all of the information is confidential and won’t be revealed to the other parent. If you have trouble convincing them that their data is safe, try contacting your high school’s college counselor or a college financial aid professional. They may be able to act as an intermediary and a trusted adult voice.

    Also read: How much student loan debt is too much?

    Obtain a certificate and work until you can declare yourself an independent

    Certificates are an increasingly popular alternative to 4-year college degrees. Although they do not capture the well-rounded experience of a bachelor’s degree, they can open doors for your career. On top of that, they can be obtained for a fraction of the cost and time. Some certificates can even be obtained in a matter of months. If your parents refuse to pay for your college, try looking into some certificate programs.

    Certificate programs can prepare you for jobs in coding, IT, data analytics, and more. Even if you are not interested in a long-term career in these fields, a certificate can be of use. You can find a job in one of these high-paying fields without any college education. You can use this career to save up money for college, and eventually file as an independent when you turn 24. Apprenticeships are another great option for students who want to get relevant work experience, a competitive salary, and a practical education. 

    The Google Certificate Program takes only a few months and costs around $100 for most users. This is a low-cost and high-reward program that can help jump-start your career without any college. Coding bootcamps also require no previous experience and can be completed quickly. Many coding bootcamps have demonstrated high income boosts for their participants. If you can’t afford college right now, remember that there are other options out there to land a high-paying job.

    Related: Why didn’t I receive financial aid?

    Apply for scholarships

    Without any parental funding, paying for school can be extremely difficult. However, if you start early and are persistent in your scholarship search, you may be able to make ends meet. If you earn a wide spread of small and medium-sized scholarships, or one full ride, you can fund your education. Try to treat scholarship applications as a part-time job. You can sit down and research scholarships for a set amount of time per week. Write out your applications and save your responses to adapt for future prompts.

    If you are on the scholarship hunt, check out our scholarship search tool. You can input your demographic information and find a list of scholarships tailored for you. This tool will continue to update with relevant scholarships for people in any situation. Good luck on your search for funding!

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    Consider affordable options

    If your parents refuse to pay for your college education, it’s a good idea to consider more affordable options. Many students have their eye set on a traditional four-year college experience. But without significant financial help, attending an expensive school without scholarships could lead to insurmountable debt. Luckily, there are many affordable alternatives out there. Let’s take a look at some possible options.

    Trade school and certificate programs 

    Trade school and certificate programs are affordable career training options. Some students might even start out at trade schools and continue their higher education at another time. Some companies offer tuition reimbursement for eligible employees. 

    Related: Top companies that offer tuition reimbursement 

    Online courses

    Online courses, which are typically cheaper than in-person, offer a number of positives. These courses can be taken anywhere with an internet connection and typically have more flexible schedules. Students can earn income while earning their degrees. Students in online courses at accredited colleges have financing options  and are eligible for scholarships  as well. 

    Coding bootcamps

    Coding bootcamps are another option that offer nontraditional payment plans with no up-front costs. You’ll only start paying tuition once you’ve landed a high-paying job upon graduation. Students interested in the computer fields might find that coding bootcamps are a solid place to start. 

    In-state and/or community colleges

    If you are looking for an experience that is more similar to a traditional four-year degree, you have options. You could apply to a public in-state college, which typically offers steep discounts to residents. Additionally, you could look into community college options. Even if you cannot pay for the full cost out-of-pocket, you’ll take out substantially less loans than at other colleges. 

    See also: Top college alternatives

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Students who are not receiving any financial support from their parents should check if they are eligible to file the FAFSA as an independent student
    • If your parents are reluctant to fill out the FAFSA, reassure them that they are not submitting any compromising information and that it is kept confidential among financial aid officers
    • Students who cannot file as independents and receive no help or cooperation from their parents are unlikely to find a financially viable way of attending most four-year universities unless they receive substantial merit-based aid
    • Students can always consider earning a cheaper certificate or community college degree and working until they turn 24, at which time they can file the FAFSA as an independent

    Also see: How to take out student loans without help from parents

    Frequently asked questions about if my parents refuse to pay for college or complete the FAFSA

    At what age does FAFSA stop requiring parents to fill it out?

    You can only qualify as an independent student on the FAFSA if you are one of the following: 
    • At least 24 years old
    • Married
    • On active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces
    • Financially supporting dependent children
    • An orphan (both parents are deceased) 
    • A ward of the court
    • Emancipated minor


    If you can be described as any of the above categories, then you can fill out the FAFSA yourself as an independent student.

    Does my family's income affect my FAFSA?

    Yes. If you’re a dependent student then the FAFSA will use your family’s income to determine your expected family contribution. Therefore, financial information regarding your family’s income will need to be filled out on the FAFSA.

    Does FAFSA check my parents bank accounts?

    No! FAFSA does not directly view the student’s or parent’s bank accounts. However, students may be randomly selected by FAFSA to verify their financial information to ensure there was no forgery on the FAFSA.

    Should I fill out the FAFSA?

    Yes! This is true even if you think there is zero chance you will need to take out loans. Filling out the FAFSA will not harm your financial aid and can even provide you with extra money you didn’t even know you qualified for. So, it is highly recommended to fill out the FAFSA regardless of your economic status!

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