What Happens if Your Parents Can't Help You Pay for College?


The amount you receive in financial aid is based on your Estimated Family Contribution. Your EFC is determined by a complex calculation created by the U.S. Department of Education based on the assets and income of your parents if you are a dependent student. If your parents are unable to help you afford the cost of college, there are many alternatives available to help you continue your education.

Private Loans

Private loans may be available to help you pay for college if you have an established credit history. Loan interest rates are set based on your credit score. Loan amounts vary based on the cost of your education, but are generally higher than federal education loans that are capped at $12,500 for college juniors and seniors, $10,500 for sophomores and $9,500 for freshmen. Compare loan terms prior to making a commitment to a loan. Review the promissory note to determine whether there is a prepayment penalty and whether repayment begins while you are in school or after graduation.


Scholarships, unlike loans, do not have to be repaid. Search local civic organizations and private foundations for scholarship programs. Award amounts vary from a few hundred dollars for a book scholarship to the full amount of your tuition. Academic and needs-based scholarships are often more challenging to acquire due to increased competition. Consider student-specific scholarships or awards based on your hobbies. For example, Tall Clubs International offers a scholarship for students over 5 feet 10 inches in height and the Vegetarian Resource Group offers a scholarship to students committed to promoting a vegetarian lifestyle on campus.

Academic Grants

Federal academic grants are available to students who excel academically in high school and the first few years of college. Grants are generally less competitive than scholarships because more awards are given each year. The federal government offers two grant programs that include the Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG) and National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (National SMART Grant) Programs. The programs exist to help students continue their pursuit of math and science instruction. If you are majoring in science, mathematics, technology, engineering and critical foreign languages, your chances of receiving an academic grant increase.

Work-Study Programs

Pursue employment on campus to supplement the cost of your education. Most work-study programs stem from financial aid packages, but you can apply for other work-study offerings to find a convenient job. One benefit to working on campus is not having to own a car or working for an employer with high demands that take away from your education. On-campus jobs are generally more flexible than off-campus jobs and can last throughout the course of your college career.

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