How to pay for college without financial aid

There are numerous ways to fill a financial aid gap when paying for school. 

Filing the FAFSA is a necessary step if you're hoping to get financial aid to cover the costs for college. The information you include is used to determine whether you qualify for financial aid. The size of your financial aid package and what type you receive is based largely on your financial need. But if you don't meet the necessary requirements then how do you pay for college without financial aid?

Getting a financial aid reward isn't guaranteed for every student. Assistance can be denied if you don't meet citizenship or enrollment requirements or your family has too much income or assets to qualify. Failing to make satisfactory academic progress could also result in aid being suspended. 

If your aid package isn't enough to cover your cost of attendance, you could try appealing to your school to ask for more funding. Schools are sometimes willing to grant more aid when there's a financial need or your academic performance merits it. You may also want to consider private student loans, which are listed on sites such as Credible. Credible can help you compare student loan lenders to ensure you find the best deal available.

If financial aid definitely isn't an option, don't worry — there are plenty of options for paying for college without it.

1. Apply for grants and scholarships

Grants and scholarships can make paying for college easier when you're unable to qualify for federal student loans. Generally, scholarships and grants don't need to be paid back so you aren't incurring debt to pay for school. 

Scholarship and grant programs can be need-based, meaning whether you qualify is based on your financial need. Or, they can be merit-based, meaning eligibility is based on your grades and overall academic performance. When applying for scholarships and grants, pay attention to application deadlines. And cast the net wide to include larger, more well-known awards alongside smaller scholarships and grants. If you aren't sure where to look, your school's financial aid office may be able to help get you started.


2. Apply for private student loans

If you completed the FAFSA but aren't able to get federal student loans for any reason, you may still be able to apply for private student loans. Private student loan lenders can lend you money to pay for school, regardless of whether you qualify for federal financial aid.

Instead, your eligibility for private student loans is based largely on your credit history and credit score. If you don't have an established credit history yet, you may need a cosigner to get approved. But that can be a good thing if your cosigner has a higher credit score since that could help secure a lower interest rate on college loans. 

Credible makes it easy to check interest rates from multiple lenders without affecting your credit score. Whether you choose a loan with a fixed interest rate or a variable interest rate, getting the lowest rate possible matters for saving money. 


If you're interested in using private student loans when paying for college without financial aid, do the math on costs. An online student loan calculator can help you estimate potential monthly payments. And take time to shop around with different lenders to compare rates. 

You can easily find out what kind of student loan rates you qualify for today via Credible's free online tools.

3. Get a work-study job

Work-study jobs can help you graduate college with (almost) no debt. It's essentially another option for paying for college without financial aid but in the form of federal loans. The work-study program is run by the Department of Education and it allows students to work part-time at an approved on-campus or off-campus job to help cover costs of attendance. 

However, your school has to participate in the federal work-study program for you to take advantage of this benefit. And you'll still need to complete the FAFSA to determine whether you're eligible. The Department of Education encourages students who are interested in a work-study job to apply sooner, rather than later since funding for this program is limited. 


4. Consider parent PLUS loans

If your parents are willing to help pay for you to go to school, getting parent PLUS loans may be an option. These loans allow parents to borrow federal student loans to help pay for their child's undergraduate education. 

You still have to fill out the FAFSA as a precursor to your parents applying for a PLUS loan. And even if you're not awarded financial aid yourself, you have to be eligible to receive financial aid in order for your parents to qualify for a PLUS loan. It's also worth noting that, unlike other federal student loans, parent PLUS loans require a credit check. So your parents' credit history and credit score will come under scrutiny when they apply. 

Scholarships, grants, private student loans, work-study, and parent PLUS loans are all ways to pay for college without financial aid.

Of these options, private student loans may be the easiest to get. Remember to check your credit score to see if you might need a cosigner and use Credible to compare rates from multiple lenders to find the best loan options