5 Ways to Help Your Child Financially When You Didn’t Save For College

College is very costly and most parents would love to save money for their child’s higher education. However, this isn’t always possible depending on your budget and finances. 

While the saying ‘they grow up so fast’ is true, it takes on a whole new meaning when your child turns 18 and you realize you don’t have much set aside for college. Don’t worry though. There are still plenty of ways to help your child financially even if there’s no college savings. 

Parents can still play a role in reducing the financial strain teens feel when it comes to attending a university in the fall. Here are 5 actionable things parents can do. 

1. Help with the FAFSA

FAFSA stands for Free Application For Federal Student Aid and it’s a free online form your child can fill out to see if they qualify for grants or other financial assistance for school. Depending on your income and their need, they could qualify for state and federal grants, book vouchers, or a work study program.

Not everyone qualifies for the maximum level of assistance, but it’s still worth applying. At minimum, your child will get approved for federal loans which have lower interest rates and better terms than private student loans. 

2. Research Scholarships

Scholarships are a great way to help your child get funding for their college tuition. 

Consider helping your child research different scholarship opportunities and help them apply. You can help them prioritize which scholarships they want to pursue and edit their essays before they turn them in. 

Some colleges and universities have a list of scholarships they offer students. Or, if you’re attending an in-state school, your child may qualify for a scholarship based on their high school grades or other qualifications.

Other popular websites to find scholarships include:

3. Help With Books and Meals

While you may not be able to cover tuition, students will still need to buy books each semester. 

You can budget to pay your child’s book fee which can range from $400 to $1,000 per semester depending on the books and materials they’ll need. 

If they are also planning to do a meal plan and stay in a dorm, you can prepare to pay for meals. These smaller costs can still help lighten a college student’s financial load and avoid some debt in the long run. 

4. Allow Them to Live at Home

Living in the dorm may be a requirement for freshmen students wanting to live on campus. If your child will be attending a school nearby, you can always offer to let them live at home for as long as they want during college. Dorm rooms can cost around $8,000 to $12,000 per semester so foregoing this can easily save tens of thousands of dollars. 

Another way to help your college student is by offering to let them stay with you after college. I know a few people who have paid off their student loans or even saved up a down payment to buy a house thanks to living with their parents for a few years. The amount you’d save your kids in rent can definitely help them get on their feet financially even if they aren’t able to graduate from college debt free.

5. Change Expectations

If you didn’t save for college, don’t beat yourself up. For most parents, saving for a college is a privilege given all the other costs they cover while raising up kids. There’s nothing to feel bad about but you may want to work on changing you and your child’s expectations. Realize that college doesn’t have to look the same for everyone.

Sit them down and have a financial conversation about the costs of higher education and learn more about their intended field of study. Discuss more affordable options such as starting at a community college and then transferring to a big university. Some student may even be interested in online schools or they my consider a public university in your state.

Depending on your conversation and their preferences, they may not want to rack up six figures of debt just to go to a particular school. Changing expectations may also involve altering how school tuition gets covered.

I also know someone whose parents didn’t have money for their college so they looking into a ton of scholarships. This person actually earned enough scholarship money to attend college and graduate debt free so it can be done.


You still have plenty of options if you didn’t save for college. This may involve exploring financial aid and scholarships or helping your child save money in other ways. Most college students are also more than happy to get a job while in school and they may be able to use a portion of that money to cover costs.

Brainstorm with your college students and find practical ways that allow you to still reduce their debt load while also maintaining your budget.