How to Pay for College Without Enough Money Saved

Congratulations! Your high school graduate has picked a college or university. Now comes the tough part: figuring out how to pay for it.

It can be hard to find an affordable college, especially if you don’t have any money saved up. A recent survey by College Ave Student Loans found that only 41% of parents said their child went to a school that was affordable for them. And it’s not hard to see why: tuition, fees, room and board at a four-year public university cost an average of $22,690 per year, while a four-year private school costs an average of $51,690 per year.

If your family isn’t one of the few surveyed that can pay for all of college with income and savings, here are some ways to pay for college with little or no savings:

Make a plan: Find out how much college will cost each year and multiply that number by four. Use this information to help you come up with a plan for the next four years.

Look at your finances and think about what you want to get done in the next few years. How long? More than half of the parents surveyed (57%) plan to put college costs ahead of their own savings. About 12% of parents who are paying for college plan to get a second job to help pay for school. Even though these ideas might not work for every family, it’s important to look at your finances and figure out what you can realistically and comfortably give. If you don’t know what to do, talk to a financial planner.

The most common ways to get help with college costs, according to the survey, are grants and scholarships. Fill out the FAFSA even if you think your family doesn’t qualify (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Many schools use the form to figure out how to give out grants and other types of help. Most high school counseling offices have lists of local scholarships for college that your child could apply for. Some websites, like and, have information on how to apply for dozens of less well-known scholarships. The College Ave $1,000 Scholarship Monthly Sweepstakes is a simple one you can enter every month.

Talk to your school: If you need help with scholarships, loans, or work-study programs, talk to your school’s financial aid office. If you have no savings and want to figure out how to pay for college, the best place to go is the financial aid office. Most colleges and universities have programs that are designed to meet the needs of their students, and most are happy to talk to the parents of people who want to go there. If the first offer you get isn’t enough for your financial situation, you can always try to negotiate with the financial aid office. Be ready with details to show why you deserve more, like losing your job suddenly.

Find ways to save money or earn extra cash: Can your student live at home and commute to school? Can you buy used textbooks or rent them? Can your child get a break on living costs by becoming a dorm resident advisor? Here are some suggestions for college students who want to make money to help pay for school.

Borrow wisely. There are two main types of student loans: federal and private. Nearly half (49%) of the parents surveyed said they will use one of these two types to pay for their child’s education. Again, you need to fill out the FAFSA to get federal student loans. Most of the time, federal loans in the student’s name are better than private ones, so it’s best to start with those. If you need to borrow more than what the government will allow, you can get a private loan. Make sure to look around for the best interest rates and terms. This College Ave student loan calculator is a great place to start.

Talk about choices with your child: More than a third (37%) of parents surveyed expect their child to help pay for college, and 47% expect their child to find a job while in college. Ask your child to help out by applying to the school’s financial aid office for a work-study program. Many of these programs, but not all, are based on how much money you need, so again, the FAFSA is your friend.

Students can work part-time on campus in places like the library, the dorms, the cafeteria, or as academic aides to help pay for tuition or other costs.

Think outside the box and look for alternatives: Many companies, both big and small, have large programs to help pay for college. says that a lot of employers offer scholarships, grants, loans, and/or tuition reimbursement programs for their student employees who are going to college or university. Target, Walmart, Chipotle, Starbucks, Amazon, Disney, and Taco Bell are just some of the companies that help with college costs.

Many workers don’t know about these benefits, so check with your HR office and, if your child works, have them check with theirs to see what’s available.

Even if you have no savings, it’s not impossible to find ways to pay for college. Explore every option carefully, be open to different ways to save money, and ask your soon-to-be college student for help.

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