Counting costs

Approximately 42.9% of students attending a degree-granting postsecondary institution in the 2018-19 school year used student loans to help pay for their tuition and student-related costs. But the process for attaining a student loan is complex and is further complicated without a parent or guardian to help. Rest assured, can be done. Keep reading to learn how to get student loans without parents.

Why This Matters

The process for applying and qualifying for financial aid is somewhat one-size-fits-all, especially for undergraduate students. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is used to calculate a student’s eligibility for loans, grants, and work-study funding from the government’s Federal Student Aid program, assumes that a student’s parents are present and contributing to their postsecondary education. The FAFSA uses parents’ income information to determine an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). They presume that parents are willing to share that information, or that students have access to it.

Meanwhile, most private student loans require a cosigner with good credit history. Although a cosigner doesn’t have to be a parent, the assumption is that most students can rely on their mom or dad to help them get the money to pay for college. However, for many students this is not the case. While it is more challenging to get student loans without parents’ assistance, it is not impossible.

Explore Non-Loan Options for Paying for School

Even if you have financial assistance from your parents, it’s always a good idea to exhaust all your non-loan resources first. The less money you owe when you finish your education, the better. There are a number of things to consider when searching for ways to pay for college without loans:

  • What is the most affordable college I can attend? If attending a four-year college directly from high school is necessary, then it’s important to do your research to find the most affordable option. A higher tuition price tag does not necessarily mean a better quality education.

While choosing a school based on major, faculty, reputation, activities, and environment is important, you shouldn’t overlook the school’s cost. Ultimately, your success in school and your career will depend more on how hard you work and the connections you make than how much the school costs.

  • What scholarships are available? Regardless of what school you choose, it’s always best to use free money to pay for tuition and other school-related expenses as much as possible. Some schools may automatically offer you scholarships for strong academic performance, athletics, special talents, or a variety of other reasons. However, there is even more scholarship money to be had if you’re willing to put in a little work.

Talk to your guidance counselor and your school’s financial aid office, and use resources like the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship finder, College Scholarships, and FastWeb to research scholarship opportunities. While the application process may involve completing applications, writing essays, or fulfilling other requirements, you typically don’t need parent involvement to apply for scholarships. The time and effort you put into applying for scholarships is well worth it when it comes to covering tuition, room and board, and other expenses.

  • Can I enroll in a tuition payment plan? In most cases, students are expected to pay tuition and room and board at the beginning of each term. However, if you’re not able to make these payments in a lump sum, but can make smaller payments throughout the term, a payment plan might be a good option for you.

You will still owe the same amount of tuition, but you’ll have additional time to pay. Each school’s payment plan options are different, with different terms and conditions, so talk to your school’s financial aid office to find out what choices you have and if any of them will make school more attainable.

  • Can I attend school part-time while working? Since tuition is usually based on the number of credits you take, another option to help make school more affordable without loans is attending part-time, and working to help offset tuition and other costs. Working while attending school does present its own unique set of challenges, but if you are disciplined, organized, and good at time management, it is another way to make your higher education attainable without assistance from parents.

If you are planning on using federal student loans to help pay for school, you must be enrolled in school at least half-time to qualify for loans. Check with your school’s financial aid office to confirm that you are registered for the right number of credits each term to be eligible for financial aid.

If you have access to your parents’ financial information

Financial papers

As mentioned before, dependent students must use their parents’ or guardians’ income information when completing their FAFSA. Perhaps your parents are willing and able to share that information, even if they won’t be contributing financially to your college education.

In this case, you should submit a FAFSA using their financial information. If you are eligible, you will be able to take out Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans without parental involvement. If you do decide to take out these loans on your own, be sure to carefully review all the loan terms and make sure you understand all the implications of borrowing this money.

If you do not have access to your parents’ financial information

Thinking over a computer

You are not completely out of luck if your parents can’t or won’t offer you any assistance with getting student loans. If this is your situation, here are the options you have to help pay for school:

Option 1: Determine your dependency status

Students must use their parents’ financial information on their FAFSA because most undergraduate students are considered dependents.

You are an independent student if you are…

  At least 24 years old.

  Legally married.

  A graduate or professional student.

  A veteran, or current member of the Armed Forces.

  An orphan.

  A ward of the court.

  Supporting legal dependents other than a spouse.

  An emancipated minor.

  Homeless or at the risk of being homeless.

There is a section of the FAFSA where you will answer the above questions to determine whether you are considered a dependent or independent student. If you are an independent student, you do not need to report your parents’ financial information on the FAFSA. You will be considered for student loans based only on your financial information.

If you answer “no” to all of the above questions, you are considered a dependent student, even if your parents do not financially support you or your education.

Option 2: Apply for a dependency override

The FAFSA allows dependent students to apply for a dependency override if they have special circumstances, such as neglectful, abusive, incarcerated, or otherwise absent parents. Individual school’s financial aid offices have the discretion to grant dependency overrides. Dependency overrides are granted on a case-by-case basis, and are not guaranteed, but you should still apply if you believe your circumstances warrant it. Here’s how to pursue a dependency override:

Step 1: Complete the FAFSA. When asked if you are able to provide information about your parents, indicate that you have special circumstances, and cannot provide this information. Submit the FAFSA. It will be considered incomplete without your parents’ information, and will not be processed.

Step 2: Contact the financial aid office at the school or schools to which you are applying or attending. Notify them that you are requesting a dependency override and find out what the next steps are. Each school may have their own protocol, but this process typically involves providing documentation of the circumstances that prevent the parent from assisting the student. Documentation can come from the parents, or a third party such as a counselor, teacher, cleric, or court.

Based on this documentation, the school’s financial aid office will determine whether to grant you a dependency override. If you are granted the override, you will be considered an independent student, and can use your own financial information to determine your EFC.

If your school determines you are not eligible for a dependency override, your FAFSA will be processed without an EFC, and the only federal student loans you will be eligible for are direct unsubsidized loans, which are not based on financial need. Each school can determine whether to award you an unsubsidized loan, and how much you can borrow.

Please note: If you need to apply for a dependency override, it is important to start the process as early as possible. You need to give yourself time to collect and submit the necessary documentation, and give your school time to review your case. If you are planning on starting school in the fall term, you should start the process no later than March. Also, your school’s decision on your dependency status is final, and cannot be appealed to the U.S. Department of Education.

Option 3: Find an alternative cosigner for private student loans

If you are ineligible for federal student loans, or the amount you receive does not cover all of your educational expenses, you can apply for private student loans from banks, credit unions, and other lending institutions. However, unless you have a good credit history, you will likely need a cosigner in order to obtain these loans.

A cosigner is an individual who signs on to be responsible for repayment of a loan. For lenders, this is an added guarantee that they will recoup the money they’re lending, especially if the borrower has little or no credit history or a poor credit history.

For many students, a parent will act as cosigner for a loan, but a cosigner can be anyone who has a good credit score, is trusted by the student, and is willing to take on the obligation of paying back the loan if the student cannot.

If your parents are unable or unwilling to cosign a loan, consider alternatives, including siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, a significant other, or close friends. Be sure that you choose someone who has good credit, because this will increase your chances of being approved for a loan with more favorable interest and repayment terms. This should also be a person you trust, and who fully understands and agrees to sharing the obligation to repay your debt.

Option 4: Research student loans that don’t require a cosigner

There are a few private student loan options that don’t require a cosigner, although there may be other restrictions on who is eligible for these loans, including demonstrating a good credit history, and being at a particular stage in your undergraduate education. Taking on a student loan without a cosigner is also a financial risk that requires careful consideration. Because there is no one else’s name on the loan, you bear the sole responsibility for repaying it.

Option 5: Establish a good credit history and build up an independent income before attending school

Although you may be eager to start your college education immediately after high school, if you do not have parental support, and are ineligible for loans because you don’t have a cosigner or an established credit history, your best option may be to delay attending college for a period of time. While it may seem counterintuitive to success, there are actually a number of benefits to joining the workforce first:

  • You will be able to earn and save money that you can put toward your education.
  • You will have an opportunity to establish a credit history, which will enable you to apply for private student loans without a cosigner.
  • You may be able to find a job that will help you pay for your college education through tuition remission or reimbursement.
  • You may be able to start taking classes part-time or online, reducing the number of classes you will need to complete when you do enroll in school full-time.

Additional Resources