Megan Goff
June 25, 2024
min read

How to Pay for College Without Parents' Help

Written by
Megan Goff
Valparaiso University

Summer Work

I got the majority of my money for school from my summer jobs. Start on a website like Indeed and look for temporary jobs in your area. Talk with your boss before leaving for college and ask if you can return over breaks. I know it’s very tempting to take your summers off, but this is the most time you will have to work while in school. If you can’t return to the job you had before college (or you didn’t have a job), some places to look at include:

Summer camps

Education-related workplaces

Groundskeeping/Outdoor Pest Control

These places often look for seasonal workers, and many even encourage college students to apply. I also worked in a warehouse for a company that distributes K-12 books, and worked a temporary job at a medical supply factory. You will find that industrial jobs tend to pay higher, but the hours often meet or exceed 40 hours per week and/or the schedules often have inconvenient hours. If you are willing to do that to make more money, then you may also want to look at temporary positions in these roles.

Working During School

Working during school is more difficult than working during the summer, but it is worth it. I would recommend not working more than 20 hours per week, as that’s when student’s grades start to take a hit. I usually worked around 10 hours per week during school, and I would try to bunch my work together on a couple days of the week to limit my commuting time.You can either work on- or off-campus jobs. On-campus jobs typically pay less, but they often allow you to do homework during down time. Off-campus jobs pay higher, and there are a few options here. You can work at companies surrounding your college campus, and many of them will accommodate you being a student since they are used to having students apply. You can also work as a tutor (this is what I do) for students in the local area or do other work like driving for Uber Eats or DoorDash, babysitting, or pet-walking. The latter tend to be more flexible and pay more, but you may not be able to get as many hours each week.

Want input from a student who is paying their own way through college?


Scholarships for Students Paying for College Without Parents' Help

Use your summer to apply for scholarships. I recommend using College Contact's scholarship search tool. Other options include Fastweb Scholarships, College Board, and Going Merry. When applying for scholarships, try to find more niche ones that apply to your major and/or identity status (immigrant, LGBT+, race/ethnicity, etc.). You’ll have a higher chance of winning these scholarships since there is a smaller applicant pool. You should also look for more scholarships at your school. Email your financial aid office and explain your situation. List your major and any identity statuses you have and ask if there are any scholarships you could either apply to or qualify for that have not already been given to you. Some schools may even be willing to change your expected family contribution (or student aid index) if your family is not contributing toward your expenses. Keep in mind that your bargaining power is much higher before you commit and submit your deposit, so you should try to do this as soon as possible.

Student Loans

I know you probably want to avoid loans, everyone does, but they can be necessary. Try to get a cosigner if you can. Private loans distributors will reduce your rate and be more likely to accept your application if you are able to get a cosigner with a moderate-to-high credit score. If you cannot get a cosigner, government loans may be a better option for you. There are two types of government loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans do not accrue interest while you are enrolled in school, and unsubsidized loans do. However, the amount of government loans you can take out does vary based on the information on your FAFSA, so you will want to make sure that the amount you need to borrow does not exceed the amount you can borrow.

Budgeting for College Without Parents' Help

Of course, making as much money as possible is no use if you do not know how to budget it. There are tons of videos and guides online for budgeting, but a lot of them are not tailored to college students. I create a monthly budget for myself where I predict how much money I will get and my expenditures that I anticipate over the course of the entire month.Start off by setting aside the money you need for food, gas, rent, etc. Then, figure out how much money you need to save that month in order to be able to afford school. I save all of my money and put it in a separate bank account for school until I hit that amount. After that amount, a certain percent of what I earn goes into my savings, and I get to spend the rest on whatever I want. Part of budgeting also includes your taxes. If you have self-employment taxes (from tutoring, DoorDash, babysitting, etc.), make sure to set aside some money to pay the taxes on those. If you do not have this kind of income, you may want to consider talking to your employer to reduce the amount taken out of your federal taxes. Do check your state and federal tax rates for your expected income bracket to make sure you don’t owe money at the end of the year, but getting a little bit extra on your paycheck can help a lot more than getting several hundred dollars back all at once after your bill is likely already due.

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