Can’t Afford a Private College But You’ve Been Accepted at a Great School? There Are Many Options

Last Updated on July 14, 2021

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Think you can’t afford a private college? Don’t panic. There are options.

Getting acceptance letters can be filled with emotion. First you’re thrilled you got accepted. But then reality sets in. How am I going to pay for this?

We get it. It’s stressful. But it doesn’t have to be.

Federal Aid and Loans

Start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a Department of Education system designed to systematically analyze every student’s financial need and award financial help that suits that need. It was created in 1992 to streamline what was until then a very complicated system of loans and assistance.  

FAFSA entails a standard form, asking for an estimated family contribution, enrollment status, whether you are an independent or a dependent student, and the cost of attendance. 

The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that more than half (55%) of all FAFSA completions are from independent students. But that number includes graduate students. Most undergraduate applicants are dependent. 

Even if you don’t think you qualify for a federal loan: fill out FAFSA. This could be your path towards paying for a private college.

Still can’t afford a private college? Secondly, there is help outside of FAFSA, including a range of grants and scholarships. Scholarships are available through credit unions, business, and nonprofit organizations. 

Worried You Can't Afford College
Worried you can’t afford college? Financial aid and scholarships are easier to obtain than you may think. Photo credit:

Targeted Scholarships

Also, it is likely you have passions, such as sports and the arts. Virtually any of these that may have engaged you in your high school years also have associations that offer scholarships or grants. In the field of the performing arts alone, there is the Joseph M. Fannell Creative and Performing Arts Scholarship, the Legacy Lab Foundation Scholarship, the Miranda Scholarship, and so forth. Look into all of them!

There is, by the way, no mystery in the search. There is a marvelously useful website,, created in 1998 specifically to help you in sucha search. I got to a lengthy list of performing arts scholarships, and cribbed the above four examples, through this page:  Scholarship Directory –

There is also the less transparently named site with the same aim: Fastweb, which can help if you think you can’t afford private college. It has tools that will help you both with FAFSA and with targeted scholarships.  

“Ah,” you may say, “but I live in a small town. I’ve never had many opportunities here to pursue my passions. So I don’t have an impressive story to tell anyone offering a targeted scholarship. As Fastweb will remind you, there are Small Town based scholarships. 

Belmont University — a fine private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee that has been around since 1890 — offers an award of $7,500 to freshman students from rural high schools with both outstanding academic records and demonstrated need. 

Filling the Gap

Once you have exhausted the available aid through federal loans, scholarships, and your chosen school’s financial aid office, it will make sense to look to private student loans to fill a remaining gap.  

Here too the options can be confusing. Requirements for these loans vary by the lender. For the most part, they will require that you be enrolled when you apply (at least half time). They will also require that you be 18 or older and that you be a U.S. resident, although some lenders will work with international students or beneficiaries of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. 

You’ll need excellent credit, and you may need a co-signer.  Earnest, for example, offers flexible repayment terms starting at a fixed APR of 3.34%.. But you’ll need a minimum credit score of 650.   

Good luck, and see you around campus!