My parents said they would pay for school - but now they can't.

My parents said they would pay for school - but now they can't.

Zina Kumok

Zina Kumok is a personal finance writer and speaker with a background in financial literacy, student loans, credit scores, and investing. She's a three-time nominee and finalist for Best Personal Finance Contributor at the Plutus Awards. Zina paid off $28,000 in student loans in three years. Holding a bachelor's degree in journalism from Indiana University, she has worked for newspapers, magazines, and wire services. Her byline has appeared in Indianapolis Monthly, the Commercial Appeal, and the Associated Press, and as an expert, she's been featured in the Washington Post, Forbes, Fox Business, and Time. Additionally, Zina is a Certified Financial Health Counselor and Student Loan Counselor.

It's a common scenario. Your parents promised to pay for all or part of your college costs and suddenly they have to back out. Whether it’s because of a layoff, unforeseen emergency expenses or because they simply changed their minds, you’re suddenly responsible for paying for school.

Unfortunately, this situation is harder to navigate than most students might realize. There are many alternative ways to pay for school. However, it will require a lot of paperwork and effort on your end, as well as jumping through bureaucratic hoops. Read below for the exact steps to follow if your parents have cut you off.

Determine how much you need

Before you do anything, you must understand how much you’re on the hook for. Ask your parents what they will no longer be paying for. If they are doing this because one or both of them have just lost their jobs, ask if the support will be reinstated if they get a new gig.

Next, figure out how much money you need for the upcoming semester and school year. Take an afternoon to sit down and make a list of all of your upcoming expenses:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Health insurance
  • Rent
  • Textbooks and software

Next, write down how much you generally spend on the following:

  • Groceries
  • Transportation including gas, car insurance, trips from campus to home for holidays, and more
  • Clothes and accessories
  • Entertainment

Once you have an idea of how much you’ll need to survive the semester, you can start figuring out where to find the money.

Contact your school

If the semester has already begun and your parents have just decided they will no longer pay for tuition, your first course of action should be to contact the financial aid department. Many schools offer emergency grants to students who need funding.

You can send an email or call them to make an appointment. Try to do this as soon as possible because many of these grants are only available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

While you’re there, you should verify that you have already been considered for every other type of grant or scholarship.

Apply for federal student loans

If you have not maxed out your federal student loans for the year, you should determine how much you need to borrow and ask for more funding.

If you have not done so, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form provides access to federal student loans as well as grants, work-study, and even internal scholarships from the school.

If you have been lax in filling out the FAFSA before, now’s the time to change that. Going forward, you need to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. Doing so can help you be eligible for more awards.

For example, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is only given to students who qualify for need-based aid. Unfortunately, there is a limited number of FSEOG spots per school.

Many students assume that if their parents are no longer helping them financially, then that will change how much need-based aid they can receive. Unfortunately, that’s not how the FAFSA works.

The FAFSA asks for information about you and your family’s finances, but it does not ask for or consider if your parents are providing monetary support or not.

Start applying for scholarships

If you need funding, scholarships are the best place to look. You don't have to pay them back after you graduate and you can use them for most education-related expenses.

Use our Scholarships Directory at to find scholarships that fit your skills, interests, hobbies, and background. If you need money, then consider applying for scholarships as your new part-time job. Sign up to be notified when new scholarships that match your profile are posted.

Use private student loans carefully

Unfortunately, federal student loans have a maximum limit that may be lower than the annual cost of attendance for undergraduate students. If you have maxed out your federal student loans and still need money to cover tuition, housing and other bills, a private loan may be your best option.

Private student loans usually have higher interest rates than federal student loans. They also usually don’t have income-driven repayment plans, forgiveness options, or long forbearance programs.

In short, a private student loan needs to be your last resort. And if you do take out a private student loan, try not to borrow more than you absolutely have to to make it through the year.

Apply for jobs

Getting a job is probably a necessity if your parents cut your funding. The best kind of job is one that provides flexible hours and also lets you study when things are slow, like working at the library or the computer lab. And finding these gigs is often about who you know. Start by asking professors or other adults you know about any possible job opportunities. Look at notices posted on billboards around campus.

Even though it's probably too late to sign up for this school year, consider being an RA next year. An RA lives in the dorms and deals with personal and administrative tasks for the students also residing there. Most RAs receive free housing and a reduced price meal plan. Some also get a regular stipend as well.

Set up a budget

If you’re finally responsible for your own finances, then you have to learn how to live on a budget. The first step is to figure out how much money you have coming in, including loans, grants, scholarships, and income.

Next, determine what your bills are for this semester and when payments are due. Subtract your expenses from your income and see how much is left. The remainder should be used to pay for your other expenses like groceries, transportation, clothes, and more.

You can use a free service like Mint to set up a budget that you can track on your computer or phone. Remember, when you’re living on a budget, you have to get creative when it comes to having fun.

We make it simple and match you to college scholarships you qualify for.