How to Pay for College With No Money and Without a Trust Fund

How to Pay for College with no Money - College graduate

Our priority at MoneySmartFamily is to help readers improve their finances and we partner with companies that could help you. Some links on this page are from our partners. Read how we earn money here.

A Reader asks How to Pay for College With No Money and without a Trust Fund.

Question: My daughter is a senior in high school and is preparing to head off to college. We have no money saved for her college expenses and feel like loans are the only option we have. What should we do?

MoneySmartFamily: You have more options than you realize. Keep reading to learn about several of the easier ones.

1. Get Government Grants

Fill out a FAFSA application – it’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid –

Do this even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for any student aid. FAFSA weighs many different aspects of your finances. They look at your income, your child’s income, the number of kids in college, and parents’ and student’s savings.

You’ll need to get a PIN number so you can electronically sign your FAFSA. You should allow a few days for processing before you can start.

Other things you’ll need include:
– Your income tax return
– Bank Balances
– Investment information
– Your daughter’s bank balances
– Your daughter’s income tax return.

Allow a couple of days (at 2 or 3 hours per day) to complete the process.

Related Article: How to Get Maximum FAFSA and Pell Grant Money

2. Find Scholarships That She Can Win

Visit the websites of the colleges or universities your daughter has applied to. Search the financial aid pages to uncover the scholarships that they offer. You’ll be amazed at the number of options.

Or, talk with someone in the financial aid offices. Be prepared for them to offer you lots of loans. Getting you to take out loans quickens the enrollment process.

Read our article on Finding Scholarships for College. Our kids were able to graduate without needing. to borrow any money.

Whereas, applying for private- and school-sponsored scholarships takes much longer. You have to be determined and persistent to get college answers.

Search the Top Scholarship Websites

Encourage your daughter to open up an account at the following websites:


These sites are a clearinghouse of thousands of scholarships.

She’ll fill out a detailed profile and get matched with scholarships and contests.

There is no charge for these websites’ services. But, most of them do promote magazines and other college-related services.

Avoid the ads and get to the scholarship lists. It’s a numbers game, the more applications she fills out, the better her chance to make some dough.

Slower Offline Searches – But More Money

If you want to take a different approach, look for grants and scholarships that are harder to find. We wrote a lot about the big purple book, “Scholarship and Grants for Individuals.”

This book is the largest resource of old foundations that give money away. Many of these trusts don’t have websites. What they do have is a trustee who carries out the wishes of the person who established the trust.

This money may be harder to find, but it’s just as green and there is far less competition for it.

3. Learn from A Scholarship Winner

We met Jocelyn Pearson at a blogger conference and loved her story. When she was preparing for and attending college she applied for dozens of scholarships. She earned more than $100,000 in scholarship money and graduated from a prestigious private business school. 

She graduated debt-free and started college with no money.

Jocelyn helps families learn to harvest scholarships with her website

Learn about her system and how you can get involved with earning free money for college.

4. No Money? Research & Read!

Read Ben Kaplan’s books:
–  How to Go to College Almost for Free
– The Scholarship Scouting Report

Or read Kristina Ellis’s story of scholarship winnings
Confessions of a Scholarship Winner

All of these books will empower your daughter with answers to apply for and win scholarships.

5. Start at Community College if you have No Money

Consider letting your daughter get her core curriculum at a community college. Class sizes are smaller and the cost per credit hour is almost half that of a university.

Most classes are usually taught by professors, not a teacher’s assistants.

6. Understand the burden of student loan debt

Saddling a young student with $20,000 to $40,000 worth of debt is a disaster waiting to happen. This is especially true if he or she is planning on a lower-paying career.

Occupations such as teaching, social work or the arts have limited earning potential. And the prospect of paying back loans on a lower income can be crushing.

Most students don’t understand the long-term cost of borrowing a large amount of money.

And what happens if these students marry someone who has similar amounts of student debt? This becomes a recipe for stress, financial hardship, and sometimes divorce.

Get Free Gift Cards by Taking Surveys

Taking surveys in your spare time can be a great way to earn extra cash.
Check out Survey Junkie.
They pay you instantly with cash via Paypal.  They have more than 6,000,000 members and an 8.9/10 rating on Trust Pilot.


7. Step Back and Protect Yourself

Help your daughter think carefully, spend wisely and count the cost. Help her get through school, a little slower, but debt-free.

Even if she has to work her way through college each semester, she will learn powerful life lessons. Understanding perseverance, planning and the real cost of education are invaluable. Plus, she’ll take her classes more seriously and truly appreciate her education.

But, if you have a daughter who feels compelled to do what all her friends are doing, just step back. Tell her you will not co-sign for her to take out student loans. The decision is hers to make

It’s agonizing to watch our children make decisions that will ultimately hurt them. We must allow them to experience the consequences of choices, without trying to rescue them. Otherwise, we will begin a cycle of crises and bailouts that won’t end well.

College Graduate - How to Pay for College with no Money

Read more Radical, Out of the Box, Money-Saving College Ideas in this blog series

  1. 6 Ways High Schoolers can Crush College Costs
  2. Student Loan Forgiveness Programs: How to get loans discharged legally
  3. Is There Gold at the End of the Scholarship Rainbow? Hack!
  4. How to Maximize FAFSA and Pell Grant Money!
  5. 10 Out of the Box Ideas for Big Time College Savings
  6. How to Eliminate College Debt
  7. How one kid got a college degree in 22 months for $3100 (you could too)

Be sure to read the comments at the bottom of this page – you’ll be amazed at these families and their college savings!

9 thoughts on “How to Pay for College With No Money and Without a Trust Fund

  1. Hope Ware

    A few thoughts. Our oldest son is getting ready to transfer to a 4 year private university. He was offered a full tuition scholarship. We homeschooled him for his entire K-12 education. So, some of these hints are a result of being able to tailor his education to his passions in life. Our children have known from a very young age that we would not pay for their college education. My son started out at a local 2 year college and earned a 3.895 GPA. After 3 semesters, he applied for a full tuition scholarship at the 4 year university of his dreams.

    During high school:
    1. Scholarship committees are looking for students who have sone unusual things. Did your child raise a boatload of money for charity? Was he/she inspired because you had a friend or family member who dealt with difficult circumstances? The committee wants to know not only what they did, but also WHY they did it! Be sure to track the total number of hours that they dedicate to local charities. If it is a LOT of time, you can add that to their scholarship application.
    2. Let your child pursue their passions early in life. Our son loved history. So, when he was 15 he contacted our local historical society and introduced himself. He was offered a year long internship. He had a blast, learned a lot of important skills, and met some local leaders. He still does historical reenactments when he has the time.
    3. Let them enter competitions early in their high school career. Our son is a gifted writer and won a state-wide scholarship when he was 16. There are a lot of scholarships and contests in which your student can not only earn awards and money prizes, but this looks awfully good on their transcript!

    These tips are for if your child gets invited to a scholarship competition day at the college: These are generally for major scholarships.

    1. Scholarship committees are looking a “can do” attitude and a “team player”. When the scholarship involves a competition day, groups of applicants are sometimes put into a group discussion situation. The faculty wants to see which students not only take a lead in the dissuasion, but also listen to the viewpoints of others respectfully and then respond in a way that furthers the discussion.
    2. Your one-on-one interview will ask about your students future goals. Be sure that they have a solid answer for their “game plan for the future.” They asked my son about his three top interests. He shared with them this top 3 interests, WHY those things were important to him, and how he planned to use those interests in his future avocation.
    3. Scope out the internet for questions that are often asked during scholarship competitions. Have your student write out answers to these questions and practice giving them succinctly and fluently so that he/she is ready well before the day of the scholarship competition.
    4. Dress for success. A scholarship day at the college is not the time for flip-flops and shorts. Truly! You don’t need a tux, but dress like you are a student who is serious about college. My son wore a suit and bow tie. But, then again he dresses like that all the time. LOL!

    1. Steve Economides Post author

      HOPE!!! Love what your son has accomplished with scholarships and college admission. His persistence is an inspiration and proves that the more you apply and participate, the better your chances are for winning big-time scholarship money. You must be so proud. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Alexis

    I don’t think enough students are educated on student loans. Many take out the full amount possible to pay for vacations, shopping, and other excursions that aren’t used for the loans at all, only to have them pay a lot more down the road.

    1. Steve Economides Post author

      Alexis – you are so right about students being uneducated about student loans. Who is responsible for educating them? The schools should try, but if they do a “good job,” teaching about the dangers of over-borrowing, perhaps the students won’t enroll in their school. It’s not in the best interest of schools to teach students how to minimize borrowing. Truly, parents are the ones who need to shoulder the responsibility to teach their children about finances and the dangers of loans. But with so many parents still paying off their own student loans how can they teach their kids. It’s a vicious circle.

  3. Melanie

    My husband and his family are living proof of this. His parents immigrated from Cuba with no money and worked their way through college with no debt. They had 13 kids and didn’t pay one dime toward their education. My husband, who was a middle child, said it was pretty well-known from a young age that they would have to work hard if they wanted an education. Out of 13 kids, all but two have advanced degrees and no school debt. My husband worked his way through two degrees with no school loans, and when he finished he had $15,000 in the bank.

    (My parents paid for my education… I feel like a schlump next my hubby’s siblings.)

    The key is, let your kids know early on what is expected of them. If they want that education badly enough, they will work for it. If you hand it to them on a silver platter, you kill their drive and passion.

  4. Ali Bailey

    Thanks, Steve!

    We are very proud of them. We need more people in the world that have learned the lessons what used to be considered common sense. 🙂


  5. Ali Bailey

    We had managed to save up some for each child’s college, but not nearly enough. Community college gave our children an excellent start on their educations. Living at home saved over $10,000 a year in dorm fees and eating plans.They did well on their studies, got into the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, and received several offers for transfer scholarships. When they went to the four year school, they had roommates and worked. Their scholarships paid their tuition and books. We paid their rent, and their wages went to living expenses. We have two children and the youngest daughter is a senior in college. The experience that my older daughter got while working her way through led to her post-graduation job. In a tough job market, college alone is not enough. Frugal living, coupled with the willingness to work hard at both her job and her education paved the way to success for her.

    We have family members that chose a different path. They have HUGE student loans, of $40,000 or more, and have not found post-college employment. That kind of debt hampers your future and should be avoided as much as possible. It is so unnecessary. College costs have been rising faster than inflation for over twenty-five years now. College is a product, like any other purchase you make. When consumers get savvy to this and start holding colleges accountable by voting with their feet, perhaps there will be some cost contols put into place.

    1. Steve Economides Post author

      Your story is awesome! You’ve given your children an incredible gift—self sufficiency! They know that with some careful planning, simple living and elbow grease, they can accomplish what many think impossible.

      It will be wonderful to see where they are financially and employment wise 10 years from now. They’re going to be leaders among their peers.

      You should be proud of them!

Leave a Reply