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Articles / Paying for College / My Parents Won't Pay for College. Can I Take Out My Own Loans?

April 28, 2020

My Parents Won't Pay for College. Can I Take Out My Own Loans?

Question: Hi my question is even with an extremely high family income could I still take out student loans. My father and step-mother have a combined income of <500k a year however due to strained relationships they will not help pay for college. My mother also makes 100k but can't help due to lots of debt accumulated when she was younger. I'm assuming fincial aid is completely out of the question so can I still get students loans government or privately?



If your mother applies for a parent “PLUS Loan" (see https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/loans/plus ) and is denied due to poor credit, she may be able to get the loan if another adult with good credit (e.g., a grandparent) agrees to co-sign the loan. However, if your mother is denied a PLUS loan, you will still probably be allowed to take out a loan of up to about $4000 to $5000 per year (the amount goes up as you get older). While this amount will only make a dent in the tuition and room & board at most colleges, you would be unwise to graduate with a lot of debt, and thus your best option may be to apply to the lower-cost public colleges or spend two years in a community college before transferring to a four-year school.

Other options include …


  1. Take out a private loan BUT you will need an adult co-signer with good credit who agrees to cover your loan if you default. If your mother has significant debt, she cannot co-sign, and it sounds like your father would be unwilling. Thus you'd have to find another adult (grandparent? aunt? uncle?) to do this enormous favor.
  1. If you are a strong student, you can apply to colleges where you might get a large merit scholarship. College Confidential has a lot of free information about where you can find suggestions. For instance, see: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/financial-aid-scholarships/1461983-competitive-full-tuition-full-ride-scholarships.html#latest
  1. Consider applying to colleges that use only the FAFSA form for financial aid and not the CSS Profile. FAFSA-only colleges will consider just your custodial parent's income and assets and not the income and assets of both parents. So if your mother is your custodial parent and she earns about $100K per year, you will probably still qualify for some need-based aid. If your parents share custody but you can claim that you live with your mother at least 51% of the time, then you can name her on your FAFSA and not your father. Here is a list of the colleges that require the CSS Profile (which will consider income from both parents). https://profileonline.collegeboard.org/prf/PXRemotePartInstitutionServlet/PXRemotePartInstitutionServlet.srv Look for colleges that are NOT on it. The University of Alabama, for instance, is not a FAFSA school, offers excellent merit aid, has a strong honors program (as well as a strong football team!) and is actively recruiting students from out of state. (As of right now, slightly more than half of all 'Bama students are from outside of Alabama).

It's tough on you to be caught in the middle of family dynamics that will affect your college choices and perhaps subject you to long-term debt. But the silver lining is that, if you do finance your own college career, you will probably appreciate it more than many other students do, and you will learn life lessons along the way that might be more valuable than the formal education!

Good luck!

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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