I have divorced parents, one makes a lot more money than the other, but that one (who makes more money) claims due to court rulings he pays a lot of money to the other parent and that they are wasting it on unnecessary expenses.

I do not know what the truth is regarding their finances, but what I do know is that parent A who makes less money claims they can only pay a trivial amount or cannot pay at all, and the parent who makes more money claims the other parent is lying and says that if the other parent does not split the cost 50/50 that he will pay the same as the other one, which could be as low as 5% of tuition costs.

I've looked into using FAFSA to get grants and loans, but it's based on my parents' income and asset information and as a result I am not eligible for any financial aid.

I am not completely sure what my options are and would appreciate some advice.

It seems to me that I am about to go into massive debt.

I dislike all the options, but I chose the answer which would make the most sense for others. I will figure something out.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JohnFx
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 19:31
  • 8
    The divorce issue is mostly a distraction from the question of how to personally finance your studies. There may be an Interpersonal Skills question in trying to convince whichever parent to pay (if they have the money to do so, that is).
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 15:53
  • 2
    You should look at international options. The US has ridiculously expensive colleges due to the US government subsidizing universities. What this means is that many people in the middle class cannot afford to go.
    – JakeJ
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 23:35
  • Other than travel as mentioned above, you could try a technical school funded by both parents (much cheaper), then working for a few years and saving / going to night classes. If you're going to try to do that, it's hard if you're going into STEM, as only IT/tech usually has options for night classes. If you are going into IT, see if you can do a bootcamp and get a job.
    – JakeJ
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 23:42
  • 1
    If your question is "How do I get to claim some of the alimony that <rich parent> pays to <other parent>, then please make that clear (and maybe go to legaladvice)
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 10:27

25 Answers 25


You really have only three options (leaving out somehow legally forcing them to pay, about which I know nothing). I'm also assuming you're in the US.

  1. Somehow get enough in scholarships and grants to pay for your tuition and living expenses.

  2. Take out loans, which as you say may put you deeply in debt.

  3. Put off college for a while, and work until you have enough to support yourself. (You can take evening courses to accumulate credits while doing this, perhaps at a low-cost community college.)

    1. A subset of this is to enlist in the military, which offers various education benefits. (The local National Guard is advertising 100% tuition at state universities.) Depending on the branch and enlistment options, you might also learn some useful skills.

PS: Since a certain person has decided to delete valuable comments, I will add such of them as I recall, and my responses.

Comment: Move to Europe and attend a "free" university there.

Response: Unless you can get something like a Rhodes scholarship (covered under my option #1), moving to Europe and supporting yourself there is likely to cost more than attending a US state university. My experience of working in Europe suggests that the cost of living is not cheap, while the options for earning money are limited and surrounded with red tape.

Comment: Enlisting in the military might get you posted to a combat zone.

Response: Yes, this is inherent in being in the military. Whether you consider this a disadvantage or not is a personal value judgement.

  • 5
    If you become a resident of Alaska, they have free college funded by their oil profits. And you get a payment for living there from the same profits.
    – user75244
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 12:16
  • 3
    One other thing. I was in the exact same situation as @Outsider. When OP turns 25, FAFSA will stop considering parental information, which makes him eligible for grants. I went from taking out $5k/semester to taking out $1k/semester.
    – Rich
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 14:28
  • 11
    Many European universities are free for Europeans. If you're from outside the EU, you'll pay. I'm not sure how the "foreign student" fees compare to fees in the US, and this will likely vary greatly by country.
    – Flyto
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 14:30
  • 3
    @Hosch250 Unless something has changed in the 12 years I have been gone, Alaska does not have free college. Since I get called by the U of A alumni association asking for scholarship donations regularly, I am pretty sure this is still the case. What Alaska does offer are grants and student loan forgiveness, generally if you are in certain fields and willing to live/work in remote communities for several years.
    – Rozwel
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 17:45
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    @Flyto Many yes, but by no means all of them. For example, german state universities are just as free (-ish) for foreign students as for natives, and you're eligible to work both as student assistant and as a part timer. The main problem here would be that foreign students are expected to support themselves, so without proper funds it'd be hard to even get a Visa in the first place; Similar situation for other nations.
    – Cubic
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 18:01

Some folks have touched on this, but I wanted to make sure I emphasize this. Getting a college degree does not require going into massive debt. In fact it doesn't require debt at all. Here are some options (this is US-focused):

  • Get your core classes out of the way at a community college. Community colleges are a significantly cheaper way to earn college credit in nearly every state in the U.S.
  • Don't go to a private university. As Machavity correctly points out, in-state schools are usually the fraction of the cost of a private university. Once you land your first job and get even a little experience, nobody will care a lick about where you went to school (and even for the first job, a surprising number of employers are not that impressed by what school you went to as much as what you learned and what your GPA was).
  • Work a part-time job while going to school. Multiple studies have shown that students who work while going to school actually make better grades.
  • Make applying for scholarships and grants your new second job. A $1000 scholarship is not much, but if you get ten of those, you've just paid for a year of school!
  • Don't go to school full-time. You can always go slower if you need to. Going half-time will still get you a federal tax credit in the U.S.
  • 9
    Two minor responses to this. First, I'd +2 the suggestion for community college, if I could. In my state (Iowa), community colleges generally have agreements with the state university system that allows for direct transfer of credits so that your gen ed courses actually do count. Second, a private university can actually end up costing less than public universities, depending on scholarships, endowments, etc. I.e., I have two sons in college right now. The one going to a private school (>$50k/yr) will graduate with the same or less debt than the one going to a state school.
    – Deacon
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 15:01
  • 24
    +1. Be sure that the credits you take in community college will indeed transfer to the school you will ultimately transfer to. Usually they will, but there can be disparities sometimes. Find out ahead of time so you don't end up with an unwanted surprise. Guidance counselors can help here. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 16:04
  • 5
    Possibly work full time summers...
    – rogerdpack
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 16:30
  • 2
    speaking to @BrianRogers comment, verifying what will transfer and in what way is not always straight forward and you may have better luck completing an associates degree to satisfy general education requirements than trying to match up class for class. My community college was on a quarter system and, the 4 year school used semesters. A 3 credit class transferred as something like 2.25 credits, and 5 credit class as 3.75. This made for some interesting shortfalls in satisfying the degree requirements. (oh i'm 1/4 credit short. guess I need to take a whole additional 3 credit class now.)
    – Mr.Mindor
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 20:44
  • 2
    @Mr.Mindor In my case, I did get the Associate's first, but the school I intended to transfer to still picked apart the credits and not all of them transferred cleanly. In the end I got fed up and transferred somewhere else that did take my hard-earned credits. That is why I advise to find out what transfers first. I learned the hard way. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 22:56

It seems everyone has left one conspicuous option unspoken:

Don't go to college.

Let me be clear. I am not saying you should not go to college, but it is important to remember that not going to college is a viable option. There are many many well-paying jobs out there that do not require a college degree. The important thing to remember when preparing for the workforce is that you should gain marketable skills. You can do this through college, through a trade school, or by gaining experience in the low end of a company or apprenticeship and working up.

What you absolutely should not do is make the mistake of our generation by digging yourself into massive debt when getting an overpriced degree. Be smart. Do not overpay. There are other options out there.

  • 8
    What employers want are skills. Having a particular degree implies you have certain skills, but that's not your only option. Many employers will consider skills/experience "in lieu of a degree", more so now than ever before.
    – bta
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 18:53
  • 5
    @bta There's also other options like going into a trade (e.g. becoming an electrician), which pays good money and wouldn't require a university degree.
    – nick012000
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 2:30
  • 7
    @nick012000 - Right. Going into a trade is in the modern world a highly underrated way to get a good well-paying and satisfying career where instead of going into debt for the next 20 years of your life you start making money immediately. You could end up owning your own business. You could also ... not waste 5 years of your life drinking in school. If you don't already know you're going to succeed in some STEM field it is financially far preferable to college - and probably will lead to more happiness as a result.. (IMO)
    – davidbak
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 2:59
  • 1
    This is definitely a serious option. I'm from the UK, and a full stack developer and didn't attend University. I worked menial jobs into my early twenties, which gained me valuable life experience that I took into my career, and I came out of the other side without university debt!
    – John Bell
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 12:34
  • 1
    @davidbak: OTOH, I spent a decade working my way up in "trades" just so I could afford to go to college and get a STEM degree.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 16:37

Divorce records are public. Go to the county Clerk's office and read through all the documents (Divorce Decree, Property Settlement, etc). It'll be depressing, but that'll show how much your father is sending to your mother.

Note that both sides might be telling the truth. Depending on where you live, housing expenses can be shockingly high, and teens -- through understandable lack of experience in the world -- usually don't have a good grasp about how expensive stuff really is.

Thus, two houses -- and therefore two mortgages -- might just be eating a lot of that money. Add on to that any possible poor spending habits by either side and POOF there goes the money that would have been spent on college.

  • 40
    The divorce seems to be a red herring in this situation though. Does it really matter what the paperwork says? If the parents are unwilling to contribute, the child is on their own. Knowing which parent is getting child support, and how much, doesn't inherently change anything.
    – dwizum
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 13:03
  • 5
    @dwizum does OP want options on how to pay for college, or know whether or not one or both parents are lying? Or both? I'm answering one of the possibilities, because ISTM that the answer to "how do I go to college when I don't have any money?" has been answered thousands of times.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 13:11
  • 4
    "but that'll show how much your father is sending to your mother" -- I can't find any place where OP said that it was the father that was sending money to the mother, and not the other way around.
    – JoL
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 15:12
  • 9
    @JoL: It was hinted by the choice of pronouns.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 18:32
  • 7
    Divorce proceedings may matter. if the father pays significant money that disappears - as happened in my case - moving out and having those funds redirected and properly used is a possibility (as was in my case). Suddenly I had more than average wage available to live. And my mother realized that the nice time had ended.
    – TomTom
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 8:24

My wife and I have six children who are in college or have graduated. So far, with almost no financial help from us, they have earned 4 Bachelors degrees, a Masters degree, and an Associates degree (with a Bachelors degree and a PhD in progress).

On their own, they covered the cost of housing, living expenses, tuition, books, and fees. The only thing we have paid for is medical and dental expenses and insurance, and flights home. They didn't end up with massive student debt, either -- I think a couple of them borrowed a few thousand (probably less than 10k) during undergrad, and the rest have no college debt.

How did they do it?

  • Chose less-expensive schools (you can Google for "best value colleges" to find schools that are good quality for the money)

  • Worked while going to school: part-time during the semester, and as much as possible during the summer

  • Got scholarships

  • Worked and saved money before college

  • Took some classes (typically 2 to 6) at a community college before starting at a university

To be fair, they have known since they were 5 that their parents would not be paying for college, so they had time to prepare. But you can apply most of the same principles right away.


This may or may not answer the question, but is far too long for a comment.

Many people's parents do not pay their children's tuition in full in the US. I'm writing this as if your parents will not be contributing a significant amount. If you can convince them to do so, bully for you.

This doesn't have to wreck your life (unless you foolishly let it). Your options will just be constrained in the following ways:

  1. You will need to pick a major that will allow you to repay the debt. Be suitably pessimistic about this: some things that sound good may not actually have job prospects as good as one might suppose. Do your homework here. Doing it for the love is out, unless you love e.g. engineering. This is less awful than it sounds. Most people end up liking but not loving their job, most people don't have a strong passion for a particular job, etc.

  2. You will need to minimize the debt you take on to repayable levels. This will include things like reasonably frugal lifestyle, part time jobs, and not going to a super-expensive college. Note that depending on aid package, that 'expensive' private university might actually be cheaper (in post-graduation debt terms) than the state school. A good heuristic is to look for the average debt load of graduating students from a given university. Also not terribly awful, you will still be able to have the college experience at most universities (in state) without taking on crippling debt if you aren't trying to live large.

Two more things. I have stressed a certain austerity here that I will counterbalance with the following cautions: don't go so frugal that you skimp on your education. In my field (CS) a degree from Western Podunk Extension Campus will not earn you a salary anywhere near what you'd get with a degree from a top school (e.g. MIT, Stanford, Carnegie-Mellon). The difference (depending on talent/internships/etc) can literally be $100,000 per year in salary/bonuses/options. Don't try to save money by going to a school with a lousy unknown program: that's a false economy. Pick the best school you can reasonably afford (i.e. it won't double or triple your debt load) that you can get in to.

Lastly, if you want to throw all of this practical advice out the window and chase your dream, go for it! There's nothing wrong with that. But do it with your eyes open and a clear understanding of what's at stake: student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy and private ones can have punitive interest rates. They don't go away if you don't graduate, or graduate with a worthless degree.


There is a loan forgiveness program in the US for public sector and charity employees. Ignore it when making a decision about where to go/what to major in. There are significant caveats. By all means use it if you wind up in public service, but don't treat it as a get-out-of-debt-free card and rack up $200,000 USD in loans to be a public school teacher.

  • 3
    As a software engineer I'm dubious about your claim that choice of college matters. Perhaps a fancy college will help you get started - I wouldn't know because I (like many) don't have a degree in CS and didn't follow the "standard" route to a software engineer career (if there is a such a thing). Lack of a CS degree has only ruled me out of applying for a position once or twice out of dozens of applications over the years. Perhaps those 2 applications would have cared where my degree came from, but as far as I can tell literally no one else does.
    – conman
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 13:41
  • 4
    @conman the issue is not so much the degree, some of the kids at those universities don't even graduate before leaving for industry. It's that the entrance requirements are stringent enough that you've already been vetted as having lots of potential, combined with high-end tech employers recruit heavily on those campuses. I left an extension campus early to go work (already had a family and a mortgage). A younger friend of mine went to Purdue proper and was recruited by Bloomberg in NYC. Our starting salaries were more than $100k apart. I'll grant that NYC and the Bay Area are $$. Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 14:15
  • 1
    Not trying to be difficult, but that sounds like anecdotal evidence more than anything else, and almost all of that could be explained by location. I bet I could easily get a $100K pay bump simply by moving to California - no joke. For someone with my skills and experience I've seen plenty of jobs advertised that I fit which pay $100k more than my current salary. Of course with the cost of living and my own large family, it would probably be a net loss for me. I've known many people get ridiculous starting salaries for the big techs in Seattle, but most of the difference is location.
    – conman
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 15:22
  • @conman I seem to not be getting my point across. A motivated, MIT-caliber programmer is going to do fine even if they don't go to MIT. But, and I realize a lot of us don't want to admit it, very few of us are MIT-caliber programmers. You cannot become one simply by virtue of experience. And actually going to MIT is a pretty reliable sign to employers that you are, in fact, MIT-caliber. N.B. software engineering is (as I think you're trying to point out) one of the fields for which this is least true: most fields are very credentialized with several stratums. Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 17:09
  1. Don't let your parents drag you into their arguments. This is BAD co-parenting. Yes there is probably alimony paid. It is much harder for 2 people to afford living independently than together (2 mortgages or rents, day care instead of at home care, etc etc). Ignore the bickering between them and don't ask for explanations. Look at your future as if they will not pay even if they work together. Love them for being your parents and look past the faults. You aren't perfect either. Your life will be better to let this roll off your back.

  2. Get a job. Full time college is only 3 - 4 classes per semester. Full time lets you get grants and scholarships. Avoid partying and work instead. You will come out with a lot less debt, better work ethic, a job history, and no addictions... During the summer and breaks, you can pick up many more hours. I worked over 30 hours a week at a better than minimum wage job through a BS and MS program.

  3. You need to try to prove that you are independent. This affects how grant money is awarded. Usually, college assumes you are a dependent of you parents until you are ~24? This greatly impacts cost to you. If they give you no support, you should be able to prove that and be eligible for more college support.

  4. Start in a 2 year school that transfers directly into a 4 year school. After 2 years of lower cost tuition, you will have an associates degree and better employ-ability (better income). Then transfer to a 4 year school for a BS or BA, but keep working. Avoid the pitfalls of new students and just focus on school for the degree.

  5. Keep your expectations realistic. Find a school that is relatively low cost to you (e.g. cost of living in the area is low, not private tuition unless scholarships make up the difference, etc). The degree matters far more than where you obtain it.

  6. Don't waste this effort on a degree with no value (art history, english, psychology, even biology - 4 year degrees in these kinds of programs don't give you a competitive edge for a high paying job). Get a degree that you enjoy and is necessary for a good paying job. I'm thinking math, engineering, stem, or something with finances... when you pick your major, make sure you know what jobs it opens up and what their pay-rates are. Don't base it on promises of people in academia.

  • 2
    Paul, Great answer. I would highlight an added benefit of #2 is that many companies have a tuition reimbursement program for full time employees and some even for part-time employees. I paid for my own bachelors degree, but my employer paid for almost all my masters degree from a very recognizable private college. For most of my program they paid up to $12k of expenses per year. This eventually dropped to $8k per year. So, beyond working full time, I would also recommend being fussy about who I work for. Work full time, but keep looking for an employer that will help you cover the cost.
    – Skiddles
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 18:52
  • 2
    @Skiddle I had not thought about that. I had a job offer to fund me getting a Systems Engineering degree at a top university. I turned it down because I really wanted to relocate closer to family (leave the job). I have a current co-worker receiving tuition reimbursement for his master's - all he has to do is obtain a B to receive the reimbursement from our company.
    – Paul
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 19:08
  • Yes, if you want biology, study nursing (BSN). Biology degrees are useless unless you become a researcher.
    – Max A.
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 11:58
  • Note per point #3 that independence can be difficult to show for an unmarried undergrad, and it's the federal requirements that matter as much or more than the school. Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 17:43

The other answers are great but I will add my own experience.

I started college right before my parents got divorced. My dad was making a decent amount of money. Too much to qualify for Pell grants but not enough to really help pay for my education, so I took out loans.

When my parents got divorced, I had my mom claim me as a dependent despite her making about a third what my dad did. I suddenly qualified for Pell grants. I also took out loans to pay for my living expenses so I didn't have to work or work very little. Eventually I started claiming myself as an independent which still awarded me the full Pell grants. My parents' divorce was probably one of the best things to happen to me as I got out of the food industry and could pay for my education almost entirely on grants.

My advice, have the poorer parent claim you or claim yourself to get Pell grants. Go to a cheap enough college (of good quality) so that the grants and scholarships cover tuition. And work to pay for everything else, if you can balance work and school. I couldn't and taking out loans was brutal, but I graduated. If you take out loans, try to find a charity/non-profit to work for to get the loan forgiveness.


First, the thing between your parents is not your problem. You are not entitled to that money, and trying to gain access to it will only anger them.

There's a huge scam around college financing

It's difficult to see as a young American because you're only seeing it in one country and one age. But the situation with expensive college is not normal.

You know how, if everyone has a lot of money to buy a thing, prices go up? It's like when mortgage interest rates fell to 6% from 14%, people could afford bigger mortgages, so they were able to bid prices higher.

There's a tiny law that says "student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy": It's a debt you cannot ever escape. Government student loans have sensible rules that balance that. Private student loans do not, but they weren't competitive until interest rates went very low about 20 years ago. Now, private loans have gone crazy. Cheap schools have popped up simply to get young people signed up on student loans (aka diploma mills). Online/distance learning has only made this worse.

A debt someone can't escape except by dying? It's a no-brainer for investors, and a sucker bet for students. But they are bombed with propaganda saying how very important college is (not wrong), and financial literacy is not taught in high school -- so when it comes to complex financial matters like this, young people are lost and get victimized by this crazy system - and especially by these cheapie "diploma mill" schools.

So you have very good reason to be concerned and asking questions.


It's not that way in other countries

Of course, that seems very intimidating. Most young Americans have never left the country, but that's just a habit. It's a GREAT option, it's just a lot more complex and so you have a bit of a "senior project" working out the details.

"Surely it's as expensive there" - no, the "low interest/student loan/greed" runaway train never happened there, because the government has different policies. Often college is free, which lets the air out of the student loan business ;)

"I'll never get a residence visa" - no, you get a student visa. As you'd guess, it's for that. And it provides what you need, including often right to work to fund your college/living expenses.

"They hate immigrants" - European and developed East Asian countries love Americans, though.

"What about housing" - it's situational, you have to check with the country.

"Free? REALLY?" Keep in mind in many countries it's free to their own citizens, so they keep costs down. It's good public policy because it helps their economy more than it costs. Making it free to Americans is good public policy too; guest students tend to get an affinity for the country, so they want to do business there or help companies do business there. The value that adds to their economy pays for your college. Get it?

Not that way in the military

The US Military has a variety of programs to get you into college at no cost. Of course they will want something in exchange for it.

Military experience is often, itself, as good as education on a resume. As an example, there's a pilot shortage - the military can provide the training and many flight hours you need to qualify for decent paying slots on commercial airlines.

Not that way at community college, which is often close to free

And many states and municipalities make community college almost free. You can use this to get all the basic courses you'll need for a longer degree. For instance you'll need Calculus I for a Data Science bachelor's - but Rockhill Community College can teach it just fine, so no need to burn rent and student loans getting it at MIT.

Further, if there are deficiencies in your high school grades, and you excel in community college, that will greatly help your application to the Big University.

Applies not so much to Trade School

With all the hype about college, people overlook the skilled trades. You actually get to build stuff like buildings or the electrical and plumbing in them. And you get better paid work, sooner, than you often get with a college degree.

Trade crafts are not just grease and sweat. They are highly technical these days, in their own way.

Another amusing fact is that some countries grant work visas to people with needed trade skills. Once there, you can get -guess what - free college ;) Or rather, mechanics to fix the hydraulics on the ditch diggers.

It doesn't apply if you skip college

It is possible to make it without a college degree. It can work with you applying to jobs; especially now as employers are very hungry. However it is more reliable when you make your own business. Your business doesn't care about your degree (it cares about your skills which degrees help) - businesses mostly care about your level of commitment.

Avoid red herrings

The thing about your parents and their money concerns me. It's not your money and you have absolutely no rights to any of it. You must be careful not to allow things like that to become a distraction to the goal. Focusing on irrelevance like that is one way people self-defeat... that is your brain looking for a way to not confront a problem before you. Problem: financing college; avoidance strategy: focus on money you'll never get and pretend that's a barrier to progress, making lack of progress not your fault. See how that works?


I tend to agree with Jared on this

You will need to pick a major that will allow you to repay the debt.

I don't know that he explained it very well, however. College is definitely useful for increasing your potential lifetime earnings. Generally speaking earnings go up the more educated you are. But the cost of college is not insignificant

Tuition and fees vary from college to college. The average cost of tuition and fees for the 2018–2019 school year was $35,676 at private colleges, $9,716 for state residents at public colleges and $21,629 for out-of-state students at state schools, according to data reported to U.S. News in an annual survey. When it comes to costs, the average tuition and fees to attend an in-state public college is a third of the average sticker price charged at a private institution.

If we run with that private tuition number, that's a whopping $140,000 tuition for a 4 year undergraduate degree on average. There are places where you can buy a house for about that much. And that's assuming you find a median cost college. Harvard (a school with immense prestige) costs more than double that.

What you need here is a plan. The factors you need to consider are

  1. How do I want to earn a living? College can help here, but you should have some kind of goal before you even consider that. What do you want to become down the road? If you're going to college just so you can say you went, you're doing it wrong. Maybe you want a degree in the arts because you love art. That's OK. And maybe it's worth it to you that the degree might not earn you money right away (or even ever). That's OK too. Just be honest with yourself about your goals here.

  2. How can I actually make money? I know many attorneys who got their law degree and it took them years before they got a steady paying job (and they're still paying down that debt). Ignore the usage of your degree and just answer that in general. Look around at what jobs are listed where you want to live. Far too many people assume that they need a white collar job, when a blue collar job can actually pay more with less education needed (some jobs might even train you directly). That's a point Mike Rowe often makes

    Consider the reality of today’s job market. We have a massive skills gap. Even with record unemployment, millions of skilled jobs are unfilled because no one is trained or willing to do them. Meanwhile, unemployment among college graduates is at an all-time high, and the majority of those graduates with jobs aren’t even working in their field of study.

  3. Where do I want to live? If you said New York City or California, your cost of living is going to be MUCH higher than if you said, say, Louisiana. Now consider the previous two points. Maybe you can handle going to community college to start off (they often have flexible hours for working class folks) and then transfer to somewhere you can get an undergraduate degree you want. Consider moving to a place with a cheap college and decent job market.

Another option is military service. Not only will they provide you a job, they'll train you as well. Want to go to college later? They can help pay for it, but by then you might already be well trained. I have a nephew doing welding for the Navy and it's pretty lucrative for him once he leaves the service, which isn't bad for a guy without a college degree.


You can easily have a sit-down with your parents, dig out the truth, and figure out how much they are willing to help you. Worst case scenarion, you get no help at all from them, then you must do the following:

  • Fill out your FAFSA (do it regardless of parent help) and figure out how much financial aid you qualify for from the Federal Governemnt, your State Governemt, and the schools you're applying for.

  • Apply for grants, scholarships, and fellowships. These are hard to get, but it doesn't hurt to try.

  • Get a part-time job. This will help you offset a huge chunk of the cost of going to school. It will also give you some work experience and discipline, very useful down the road.

  • If possible, stay living with your parents. This will save you lots of money on rent, utilities, and other costs. Every dollar you save by doing this, is a dollar less you'll have to borrow from student loans.

  • Anything else, unfortunately you'll have to borrow in the form of student loans.

Consider going to a community college first, you'll get the same credits and education you'd get at some 4-year university, but at a fraction of the cost (if not entirely free). You can transfer your credits to virtually any university whenever you want.

Take a hard look at the kind of degree you are going for. A S.T.E.M degree is far more justifiable to go into debt for than other degrees. Choose a field that will pay big bucks when you graduate.

A bit of my own personal story. My parents were too poor to pay for any of my education, so I came out of school with $80k in debt (it would have been less if I knew better and followed my own advice I just listed above). However, I came out with a Bachelors in Science in Computer Science and making $70k a year (now $120k six years later and rising). I paid my $80k debt in about 3 years. Totally worth it and would do it again. So, like I said, make sure the degree you're going for is worth all this hassle.

  • 1
    This is a good answer, except I'm not so sure about the "easy" part (don't know the parents). I'd like to add, the university where I was accepted had a wonderful Financial Aid office that did much of the steps you listed and like you, I was able to pay off in a reasonable time.
    – donjuedo
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 17:02

Go International.

There are many countries who offer free or cheap tuition at all levels. Some countries only subsidize education for their citizens, but others do it for international students as well.

For example, there are hundreds of universities in Germany that have free or very low-fee tuition programs available for international students.

France also charges very little to international students (~$3K/yr after conversion).

In Norway It's completely free. And from the same source "It is very common for degrees to be offered in Norwegian and English at institutions in Norway. A large majority of the population also speak good English."

These are just a few examples, and you won't have to compromise the quality of your education. The above countries have great education systems.

You'll have to pay travel fees, but that may very well be cheaper than tuition in some US institutions.

Plus, sometimes a change of scenery can be refreshing.


I don't know the details on this, but you should research in detail the FAFSA rules on whether there are any conditions under which you can exclude parents' income from consideration. Certainly this is an issue for people whose parents are estranged/have disowned them (common proble for LGBTQ would-be students). There may be ways to petition not to have it considered, or to wait a number of years before going to college to avoid having it considered. Unfortunately I don't think you're going to find any really good answers here, since my limited understanding is that it's still a really big problem for a lot of young people, but there's a chance you might find something that works in your favor.


I saw that someone mentioned enlisting in the National Guard. Applying for an Army (or other branch) ROTC Scholarship is another option. If accepted, they will pay for four years of college tuition, and you will have the option of commissioning into National Guard, Reserve, or Active Duty upon graduation


  • 4
    Just keep in mind that many people who went to the army to pay for their college education still had to pay for it. Not with money, but with their mental health, with some of their limbs or with their life.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 13:58
  • 3
    Yeah, this is critical. If you accept military support, you need to ask yourself an important question: are you willing to kill and/or, die for your country, because that is what you are signing up for.
    – Dancrumb
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 15:06
  • I'd call it "are you willing to serve your country for several years" but yeah you're signing up for both sides...
    – rogerdpack
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 16:32
  • 2
    @Dancrumb there are plenty of roles in the military where front line service is unlikely: this is pretty easily shown given women were only allowed to sign up for noncombat roles prior to 2016. It's also worth noting National Guard veterans are treated differently under federal law than federal service veterans. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 20:18
  • 2
    @TemporalWolf, while this is true, anyone in the military can be sent to the front line and entering a branch of the military without preparing yourself for that possibility would be immensely foolish.
    – Dancrumb
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 0:09

Though I doubt there will be a way to force sponsorship from your parents, it sounds like the money is there somewhere so you may just need to find a way to get it in a way that sounds reasonable.

One option would be to dig into how much money flows between your parents, and then identify which part is to support the parent with the lower income and which part is there to support you. Though you definitely should not discuss whether the part for the parent is spent in a good way, you may be able to negotiate that the part for you actually goes to you (especially if you will move out). If this is done, it will feel more natural to ask the richer parent to sponsor you for the rest, as he will not feel like he is just pouring more money into the other parents pocket this way.

A second option could be to let the parent with lower income to as much support as they can, and then ask the other parent to mirror that as a gift, and offer you a loan for the rest. This is a bit more complicated so I would not go for this unless you have to, but especially if you look to have a reasonable chance to get a decent job this may be acceptable to the higher income parent. Also if he has a new family, this may prove as a decent compromise as you may either pay it back when you can, or it can simply be taken out of your inheritance making it 'eventually fair' for the new family.


Something you could try is the following:

  • Ask or find out if the money which flows from one parent to the other is solely considered for you.
  • If this is the case: Ask if this money could be redirected to you to pay for your college and (optionally) cut the expenses with the other parent, so that you are solely dependent on the one parent.

But before you do this, make sure that the parent with the money really can & want to support your college.


Another option is to consider studying in a country where there are no tuition fees, e.g. Norway. You then only need to have funds for your living expenses.

  • 2
    Sounds good in theory, but OP would need a visa / residence permit, and to get this OP would need to show they can support themselves. Cost of living is so high in Norway, that it is probably cheaper to pay in-state tuition in a mid-west US state university and live there, than to live in Norway and pay no tuition fees. It is probably also harder to find work living abroad, I expect OP does not speak Norwegian very well.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 18:33

I have a different approach to your problem. But you should be flexible to make such changes. First, what do you intend to study, I mean what is the major do you want to study when you go to college?

Point 1: assuming you are in the USA, so you don't have to go to an expensive college nor stupid college, I mean a very bad university or very good university or college. there are always places for you to spend your means or I can say - the ones you can afford.

Point 2: There are countries like Germany, Canada, Netherlands, and a few other developed countries will provide a decent education and they cost you 1/3rd of USA education. If you are ok with Asia, then choose countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, and China.

If you just passed out of high school and planning for university then it is going to be a tough call for you and your well-wishers, because you are not man enough to handle real world when you move to a place other than your native country. Having said that, I have seen teens just turned adults, went far from home country for studies, and always interact with good people, good society while studying in college (this is a very important part of your life, sometimes you might choose wrong people and they are a bad influence on you). I suggest you stay with the good side of society. But again this is a tough call to leave friends and family members behind. I think in the end, it is all about what you want to be when you finish university.

  • intact -> interact? Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 13:15
  • 1
    Canada is not much cheaper. As a Canadian I pay about $9500CAD (~$7K USD) pear year for Engineering undergrad tuition which is only about 25% cheaper than state college according to this site. And for international residents the cost is about triple what Canadian citizens pay. US citizens should definitely not come to Canada if their goal is to save money on tuition.
    – Aubreal
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 20:52

In addition to negotiating with your immediate parents, also ask if other members of your extended family may be able to help: grandparents, uncles/aunts, etc.

E.g.: I turned down acceptance at a top-tier Ivy school because my parents said they couldn't pay for it. A year later, it was revealed to me that my great uncle and aunt had for decades been saving for a college fund that could have paid for it.

  • 1
    This is helpful, thanks! I believe my grandparent could have some money...
    – Outsider
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 20:12

I can related to this, when in University I paid my own way with part time jobs and computer related odd work, and had money to spare.

Granted, I am in Europe, I paid myself my tuition fees (relatively low at the time), my food, tuition books, information technology books, clothing, computer hardware, medicines, bus fees, trips and outings/holidays. My parents only provided accommodation and utilities.

In my last year in faculty, back in 1995, had 800,000 Escudos (4000 Euros without taking into account inflation) in my own savings account. At the time, I was one of the few privileged to have not one, but two good computers at home, and a modem, also paid with my own money.

But I did not have a car of my own, which can be a huge money sink, while other (few) fellow students picked up more girls with their cars. And I did not go eat to fancy restaurants, only to the university canteen. Having or not money available for your study/needs also depends on how frugal you want to live. People often forget that it is not only the money that goes in, but the sum of money that goes in and the expenses you make.

  • "back in 1995, had around 4000 euros" no you didn't - the Euro didn't exist in '95 :-D Out of interest, which EU country was this that charged for tuition back in 1995? In the UK I think it started around '97 (I would have been one of the first to have to pay, had I gone)
    – Aaron F
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 9:21
  • 1
    @AaronF Portugal. Somewhere around 1994 (cant remember the exact date, they started charging a relatively low amount (for some) in university fees, and I also paid private algebra lessons. I adjusted the part of the Euros ;) ) Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 11:05

I recommend looking for other outlets for financial support. It seems that your parents may be fickle about what money they want to give to you for college even up to the last minute so I would recommend trying your best to not rely on their money at all. As others have mentioned, scholarships and grants are nice options to look into but depending on your academic abilities and location in the country, they may be quite difficult to get. Even if you do get some scholarships or grants, it's rare that they cover the entire cost of your education unless you were granted a full-ride scholarship. You seem to be scared off from loans because of a fear of "massive debt". You do not need to necessarily incur massive debt when getting a loan for school. A good way to avoid this massive debt is to choose your school wisely. Since you are clearly on a reduced budget for schools, I would recommend first looking at public universities where you qualify for in-state tuition. The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition is typically tens of thousands of dollars and I know way too many people who incurred that extra cost simply because they wanted to "get away from home". Avoid this at all costs. 9 times out of 10, there is an in-state school that offers the same or very similar degree to what you are looking for. The university you decide upon matters very little when compared to the effort you put into whatever university that is. Jobs will care about what skills you have first and then they'll worry about where your degree is fun (if they even care at all, most don't).


I just wanted to add one thing not mentioned above. You could consider going to one of the few free colleges such as Berea in Kentucky. You will have to work for them, but you won't pay anything except for food and housing. They are a top school, I do not know what they require to get in, but there are a handful of schools that do not charge tuition.


This answer might not help the OP, but can help those in a more general parents are unable to help situation.

There is something called a dependency override available for students whose parents have died, are in jail, etc. This override is granted by the financial aid office at your institution. The paperwork is fairly cumbersome, and you may not qualify. A quote from this article:

Unusual circumstances may merit a dependency override, which is subject to a case-by-case review by and the professional judgment of the college financial aid administrator. These circumstances include an abusive family environment (e.g., court protection from abuse orders against the parents), abandonment by the parents, or the incarceration, hospitalization or institutionalization of both parents.

A list of reasons from a better article about this:

  • Be 24 years of age or older by December 31 of the award year;
  • Be an orphan (both parents deceased), ward of the court, in foster care or was a ward of the court when 13 years or older;
  • Be a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States or serving on active duty for other than training purposes;
  • Be a graduate or professional student;
  • Be a married individual;
  • Have legal dependents other than a spouse;
  • Be an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship;
  • Be a homeless youth;
  • Be a student for whom a financial aid administrator makes a documented determination of independence by reason of other unusual circumstances.

They have an extra list below:

students that qualify for a dependency override may have a circumstance similar to those below:

  • Parents are incarcerated
  • Fleeing an abusive parent/guardian
  • Parents’ whereabouts are currently unknown
  • Unaccompanied youth and at risk of becoming homeless
  • Experiencing some combination of the aforementioned circumstances or something more

Sorry to hear about your difficult family issues. Life is complicated. Respect for looking for a pragmatic solution to your problem and for reaching out for help.

Consider going to a local community college to fulfill your undergraduate requirements and transfer to the institution you aspire to graduate from, in your senior year. Your diploma indicates your graduation from the final institution and much of the prerequisite work can be sufficiently studied at other institutions depending on your own rigor and commitment. There is fine education available at community and state institutions, but you’ll have to evaluate which one meets your expectations for academic challenge.


Consider a Self Education online (in areas where there is demand, like crypto, devOps, QA, Fullstack MEAN dev, CX UI/UX) at no or very little cost, without professorial mind control (and little value add), to avoid becoming a repeater of repeaters, competing with all the sheep out there. The world has changed, there is actually an on-line ramp into new opportunities for a career, simply by contributing to a project first (gratis), with new/cool/outside the box ideas, by also installing/operating a node in an up and coming crypto play (watch the Pi Network as an example..), if you are at all a bit technical, via github, gitlabs, bitbucket etc., get signed up , start following projects that interest you, do a good job, help promote the projects you like/select on multiple cross-linked social media and surprise, the doors to work you like, will open, timing of the work/job/career ask (after you have done something which everybody in the project agrees is useful/good, a break-thru), and type of ask (project or contract work first before asking for a full time position), will get the paid work dialogue going in the right direction with the right people (you impress) on the project .., Create a useful "brand name" for yourself in the process people will remember which a decent gif, and stay out politics when using it... ;) ps- checkout www.Ivanontech.com to get into the crypto space , the courses are solid and very affordable... just a few bucks a month..

  • I downvoted this. It's okay to suggest alternatives but try to be respectful of the people that chose to follow the traditional route. Also work on your grammar.
    – Aubreal
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 20:37
  • It's a free world, people make decisions, there are upsides and there are downside consequences, going the traditional route has upside, however lots of downside as well these days, the debt loads are crazy and the job market needs are saying one thing with many universities producing grads who don't match up well with its really offered out there...
    – thereiver
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 23:12
  • 4
    I didn't downvote, but this answer is not a good advert for self-education. The lack of paragraphs and the odd use of punctuation make me think that maybe you should have stayed in school (disclaimer: I didn't go to university either, but writing skills are usually gained before uni). Also the spam link at the end isn't really appropriate.
    – Aaron F
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 9:27
  • @thereiver I agree that there are pros and cons to most decision in life, education included, and I agree with you on some of the points you made. That being said, saying that someone who chooses to go the traditional route is being subject to "professional mind control", will become a "repeater of repeaters" and a "sheep" is disrespectful. All answers should be respectful and objective, that is why I downvoted.
    – Aubreal
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 17:53

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