Most students apply for federal financial aid, but there are cases when some won’t qualify because of the schools they are attending, their citizenship statuses, or something else. These students may not be able to qualify for federal student loans, grants, and scholarships – making it harder to pay for college.

Even if you don’t believe you are eligible for federal financial aid, you should still complete the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) to make sure. Actually, all students should fill out the FAFSA every year regardless of what they think they’ll qualify for and if they have been rejected in the past. Lets take a look at how to pay for college if you don't qualify for financial aid from the federal government.

Search for Scholarships and Grants

There are different scholarships and grants available, some of which are need-based and others which are related to meeting specific qualifications. There are academic and merit scholarships, legacy scholarships, community service scholarships, and even scholarships for specific interests.  

Students can look for scholarships and grants offered by the school they’ll be attending or by non-profit and private organizations. There are also state-based scholarships and grants that may be available.

There are quite literally thousands of grants and scholarships and these types of financial aid don’t have to be repaid.

Look for State or School Aid

As was touched on above, many colleges will offer their own financial aid packages, as do individual states. Students can contact a college financial aid counselor if they’d like to learn more about the options that may be available.

Many colleges award merit scholarships not only to incoming students but also to upperclassmen. Even if students don’t get this type of aid their freshman year, they should continue trying throughout their time in school.

Many academic departments at schools will have their own scholarships available as well.

Work Your Way Through College

While college is a full-time job in and of itself for most students, some people may opt to work their way through school. This may not fully cover the cost of education, but it can help. Many students who don’t qualify for federal aid will work as a way to supplement what they need to borrow in private student loans.

A good option for college students is to find online work allowing for flexibility. For example, working as a freelance writer or an online tutor can work well with the schedule of college students. Jobs that are going to provide more than the minimum wage such as waiting tables can be a good option for students as well.

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For students who don’t qualify for federal financial aid who feel like even working wouldn’t be enough to make a dent in the cost of tuition, it may be better to explore lower-cost schools, such as in-state public universities.

Take Out Private Student Loans

Private student loans are something that can be used to pay for college but only if all other options have been explored first. Private student loans can often be used to pay for the entire cost of your education or just to cover gaps left after federal student aid, scholarships, grants, and income earned while in school are all exhausted.

With private student loans, there are usually higher borrowing limits as compared to federal student loans which have limits and may not cover the cost of more expensive schools.

There are downsides to weigh with private student loans, however. First, with private student loans, there aren’t as many flexible repayment options and hardship options such as income-driven repayment plans, student loan forgiveness, forbearance, and deferment. Many private lenders either don’t offer these options at all or they’re significantly more limited than with federal student loans.

Another thing to consider with private student loans is that the interest can be fixed or variable. Fixed interest rates, which all federal student loans come with, stay the same over the life of the loan. Variable interest rates, on the other hand, typically start off lower but will fluctuate with the market.

When applying for a private student loan, a cosigner is often necessary as most college students have yet built a strong credit score. The cosigner is responsible if the borrower can’t repay the loan and if he or she misses a payment or default, the cosigner’s credit can be impacted.

What to Do if You Don't Qualify for Financial Aid From the Government

First and foremost, even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for federal financial aid, make sure you complete the FAFSA. If you don’t qualify for aid after doing that, or if it’s not enough, there are other options to consider. Start with searching for scholarships and grants, and then if you still don’t have enough to cover the costs, you can consider options such as working during college or using private student loans.