What You Can Do If Parents Refuse To Pay For College

parents refuse to pay for college

Did your parents refuse to pay for college? Not having your parents help you pay for college can seem defeating. However, it is not the end for you. You can pay for college without their help. You can even do it and graduate with little to no debt.

Apply for scholarships to help decrease costs. It is money you don’t need to pay back. Be sure to apply for the FAFSA and see what government aid you can receive. From there, determine what activities you can do on campus that might reduce your overall college costs.

There is definitely more to paying for college. Let’s dive into it in more detail.

Apply For Scholarships

Scholarships should be your number one priority for paying for college, especially if your parents refuse to pay for college. It is money that you get for school that you do not have to pay back, unlike loans. It’s essentially free money.

There are thousands upon thousands of scholarships for you to apply. As someone, who applied to scholarships all throughout his undergraduate career, I can truly say that they work.

Plus, scholarships are one of the best return on investments – in this case, the investment is your time. For example, let us say that it takes you seven days to complete an application for a scholarship that pays $2,000. If you win that scholarship, that’s about $286 a day or about $35 an hour.

Not many young people make that amount of money in seven days of work, but you have the potential to do so. What is even cooler is that you aren’t spending eight hours a day working on the application. You might spend a total of ten hours on the application over those 7 days and you end up getting paid $2000. That is an outstanding return on investment.

Where To Find Scholarships?

Start with going to your financial aid office and speak with them about opportunities that you can apply for. If you are in high school, speak with school counselors about this if you don’t have specific staff for this topic. Also, scour your intended university’s website for scholarship weekend opportunities where you can go and interview for certain scholarships.

If you have an Office of Fellowships and Scholarships talk to them as well. Just schedule a meeting to speak with someone and explain that you want their help with finding scholarships for school.

Online is your best source for finding scholarships. Be aware that there are scams out there. You should never pay to apply for a scholarship or give overly sensitive information. Do your own due diligence and if you are unsure if a scholarship is legit, ask your financial aid advisor.


Completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year is a must if you are needing to find the money to pay for college. A completed FAFSA gives you the opportunity to potentially get grants, loans, and other aid to help you fund your college career.

It is essential to your plan of paying college costs and minimizing your debt burden.

You will need some of your parents’ information to fill out the FAFSA. Since, your parents refuse to pay for college, see if they can just sit down with you for 30 minutes to complete the FAFSA. Stress that this is not going to cost them any money. You only need their basic personal information and info from their latest income taxes.

Below is a link to the official FAFSA website where you can learn more. Be sure to read it over.

Check out the official website here: https://studentaid.gov/h/understand-aid


Once you complete the FAFSA you might find out that you are work-study eligible. What this means is that you are eligible to work on-campus and get paid for it. When I was in the work-study program I had a few different jobs at different times.

Some of the jobs that you could do in the work-study program are a librarian’s assistant, tutor, front office intern, and more.

Usually, work-study only allows you to work a certain number of hours. In my case, it was 10 hours a week if I remember correctly. So that means a $200 bi-weekly gross check.

Now, this isn’t big money, but it was enough to pay my main bills like my phone and get myself some groceries.

Some of the benefits of the work-study program are:

  1. You can work on-campus. So you usually don’t need a car
  2. You can more easily create a student-friendly schedule since you are working on-campus
  3. In your downtime, it is usually okay to work on your school work
  4. You sometimes get paid higher than minimum wage

Most work-study programs require that you be eligible through the FAFSA so be sure to fill it out. However, there are some opportunities that are separate from the FAFSA. These usually are certain extracurricular activities like research assistantships. I will get into these types of activities later.


If you can’t work in a work-study program you can still do regular work. You can find a job at your local bookstore or coffee shop. If you find somewhere to work near school, chances are that your employer will be able to give you a student-friendly work schedule.

In fact, you might still be able to reap all the benefits that come with a work-study program outside of working on-campus.

One smart tip is to work somewhere where you would already be spending your money. Why? So you can get discounts or even free stuff. For example, if you work at a gym you might be eligible for a free membership. My local gyms cost $100 a month. So if you work at a gym you would get a free membership and get paid your hourly wage on top of that.

Using methods like this is how you maximize your worth and help minimize your debt burden.

It is important to remember though that no matter what type of work you do, always be sure to have some type of balance in your life. Yes, you need money to pay for school. However, if you spend all your time working, you risk burnout and falling behind in your classes. That is not helpful to you in the long run. So, be sure to find your balance early.

If interested, I wrote an article titled “4 Simple Tips for How to Balance School and Work in College.” Give it a read and use those tips to help you develop your balance.

Extracurricular Activities With Benefits (RA,RHA, Sports)

Few people realize that extracurricular activities can help you cover the charges your parents refuse to pay for college.

There are a number of extracurriculars you can do in college that also help you pay for school. The most notable is being an athlete. However, not all of us are that skilled or care that much about sports.

So, what can the rest of us do? What activities do we have at our disposal?

Resident Assistant

One well know extracurricular activity is being an RA or a Resident Assistant. An RA is a student that essentially is the parent of a hall. They are the person that the other students living on the hall turn to if there are roommate issues, something breaks, or they get locked out of their room. The RA is the first point of contact to solve those issues.

Now, a cool benefit of being an RA is that you get free housing. At my undergraduate school that meant you would save about $3,000 each semester. At some other schools, RAs get other benefits like reduced meal plan costs and reduced textbook costs.

All of those discounts really add up and save you thousands of dollars making college a lot more affordable.

Now, there are a lot of benefits for a reason. Being an RA is a lot of work and can become quite a headache. There is a lot of school bureaucracy that you must always deal with and usually at the most annoying moments. You might have shorter summer, winter, and spring breaks. And it really just takes up a lot of time.

So, do your research about what your institution expects of its RAs. Each school is different in that regard.

Residence Hall Association

If you are like me and realize that being an RA is not what you want, know that there are other options. One option is RHA or Residence Hall Association. Each school operates this association differently so of course, do your own due diligence here. I can only speak to how my university operated its RHA.

RHA is essentially the social arm of your university’s residence life. They plan social events for students to attend. These events range from bingo nights to full-on festival events. So, if you like planning events and creating cool activities then RHA might be for you.

Now, if you are in a leadership position in RHA you have the opportunity to get your housing costs reduced or completely paid for. I was Vice-President of my RHA so my housing was free. This allowed me to reduce my college costs and minimize my debt burden.

So, definitely check out your school’s RHA program. If they don’t have one, charter one and go from there!

Subsidized Loans

If you have to take out loans because your parents refuse to pay for college speak with your financial aid advisor about subsidized loans.

For me, loans were the last resort. I only wanted to take out a loan if I absolutely had to since it is money that you have to pay back. Luckily I only needed $783 over my undergraduate career thanks to scholarships and other school activities like RHA.

With that being said I would rather take out a subsidized loan over an unsubsidized one.


Subsidized loans allow you to not have to pay interest on the loan while you are in school.

Officially, it’s saying that the U.S. Department of Education is paying the interest on the loan, not you. Now, I am not sure about whether it depends on if you are full or part-time, so speak with your financial aid office about the specific details – I believe you must be at least whatever your school determines as “half-time”.

Note: Subsidized loans are only for undergraduate students. I could not take any subsidized loans out to cover my graduate school costs.

If you are considering loans, be sure to speak with your financial aid office.

Unsubsidized Loans

As you can probably guess an unsubsidized loan is like a subsidized one EXCEPT you are responsible for paying the interest on the loan while you are in school.

So, as I said earlier subsidized loans ARE better than unsubsidized loans, in most cases. Again, always consult your financial aid office about your specific financial aid packages and opportunities.

Note: Unsubsidized loans are for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

Read More: What Are Your College Federal Financial Aid Options

Putting It All Together

These are just a few of the ways you can find the money you need to pay for college. You can do more than one. I did. It helped me graduate undergrad with only a $783 loan that I took out freshman year.

It is definitely tough paying for school without the help of parents, but it can be done. I hope this article helps make that journey more attainable for you.

Best of luck adulting!

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Categorized as Education