What to Do If You Can't Afford College - 7 Money Tips

Figuring out how to pay for college can be a difficult process. Read to find out some tips about navigating how to pay for college.

Earning a college degree can often increase your job opportunities and earning potential. The problem is, the process of earning a degree is expensive and many people can't afford college. 

In an ideal world, money wouldn't stand between you and your dream of furthering your education. Unfortunately, not everyone lives in a perfect world. The good news is that there are options available if you need help paying for school. 

Not sure what to do if you can't afford college? Here are seven possible options to find the money you need to earn your degree. 

1. Ask your financial aid office for help

Most colleges want to work with qualified students to make sure they can attend after they have been admitted. So if you can't afford college, reaching out to your school's financial aid office is a good first step.

In some cases, your college's financial aid office may be able to help you negotiate for more financial aid -- especially if your circumstances have changed midway through an academic year or while you're in the process of completing your program. If you ask for more money, your school may initiate a professional judgement review to determine if they should modify your initial financial aid offer.

Your school may also be able to help you identify other sources of funds, such as grants or scholarships offered within your department. 

2. Apply for scholarships

Sadly, there are some students who can't afford college even with financial aid their school offers. If you're one of them, don't give up hope. Instead, apply for as many scholarships as possible. 

There are many outside groups that award scholarships for all sorts of reasons. These could include:

  • Local businesses
  • Labor unions
  • Literary magazines
  • Churches
  • Corporations

There are online databases you can search to find scholarships you may be eligible for including:

You can also ask around with organizations you're already a part of to see if any financial help may be available. The sooner you start looking for scholarships, and the more scholarships you apply for, the better your chances of getting enough money for school. 

3. Explore emergency services for students

Schools may offer a variety of emergency services for students, including small short-term loans; housing discounts; tuition waivers; or access to on-campus food banks. 

Your school's student life office can help point you in the right direction, or you can talk with a trusted faculty advisor about what options may be available. Resident Advisors may also be a good resource if you live in on-campus housing. 

There are also federal and state services for students who are struggling financially. For example, the federal government expanded student eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Benefits (SNAP benefits) during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Under the expanded rules, which remain in effect as of June 2021, students eligible to participate in a work study program during the academic year can access SNAP benefits as can students with an expected family contribution of $0 during the current academic year. EFC is the amount the government determines a student's family is expected to contribute to their schooling, based on information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

You can visit your state's Health and Human Services Department, as well as Benefits.gov to learn more about these sources of help.  

4. Look for part-time work

Working part-time could potentially help you to supplement any financial aid you receive if you feel like you can't afford college. If you qualify for federal work study programs, you can often do this work on campus in a field related to your major. 

But you can also explore other part-time opportunities including tutoring other students or becoming a part of the gig-work economy. A growing number of flexible part-time opportunities and remote-work opportunities are available now that you can often do on your own schedule around your coursework -- sometimes from your own home.  

5. Sell unneeded items

When you can't afford college even with financial aid, consider whether you have anything you could sell to help you raise the funds. 

If you have textbooks from past semesters, you can often earn a handsome payment for selling them online or to resale stores. Your campus bookstore may not always offer you the best price so be sure to compare different offers before making a sale. 

If you have a lot of designer clothes you don't need or technology you aren't using, these are also some examples of items that you might be able to find buyers for to help you raise additional funds to further your education. 

6. Choose a school strategically 

If you haven't yet started an academic program and you're faced with the question of what to do if you can't afford college, your best option may be to research different schools carefully.

Some schools, such as state schools, could be much less expensive than others, such as private institutions. Or you could even complete some of your credit hours at an affordable community college before transferring to a costlier program.  

You can also look into schools that have made a commitment to ensuring that money isn't an obstacle to attendance. Many of the best schools in the country have taken this approach. 

Living at home while attending school could also save you a lot of money on room and board and other living expenses. Consider schools close to where your family lives if you have the option to stay with a relative for free or for an inexpensive contribution to their household.  

7. Apply for private student loans

One reason so many students are left struggling to answer the question, what to do if you can't afford college, is that federal student loans are limited. There are both annual and lifetime maximums for most loans by the Department of Education. And these loans may fall far short of what it actually costs for you to pay tuition; room and board; and living expenses.

While federal PLUS Loans are available to parents and to graduate students that don't impose these types of limits, PLUS Loans may not always be the best option. Undergrads can't obtain them on their own. And there's a higher origination fee and higher interest rate than with other types of federal aid. It may be easier to get a Parent PLUS or Grad PLUS loan if you have a low credit score, but those with good FICO (650+) should evaluate private loan options.   

The good news is, private student loans can provide funding above-and-beyond what the federal government offers -- and private loans can sometimes cost less than PLUS Loans. Rates on private loans are often competitive and Juno can help you to get the best possible interest rate as it groups students together and negotiates with lenders on your behalf. 

Juno can help you to find a student loan or refinance a loan at the most competitive possible rate. We get groups of buyers together and negotiate on their behalf with lenders to save them money on private student loans and private student loan refinance loans. 

Join Juno today to find out more about your options for affordable private student loans to help fund your degree.


Christy Rakoczy Bieber
Written By
Christy Rakoczy Bieber

Christy Rakoczy Bieber is a full-time personal finance and legal writer. She is a graduate of UCLA School of Law and the University of Rochester. Christy was previously a college teacher with experience writing textbooks and serving as a subject matter expert.

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