How to Take Out a Student Loan Without Your Parents

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Brian O'Connell

By Brian O'Connell

March 21, 2024

Conventional wisdom is that getting a student loan is a family affair involving students and their parents. However, no law says a student and parent must be involved in borrowing money for college, especially regarding federal student loans.

College students can get student loans in several ways without a parent or cosigner. These include federal student loans, increasing federal student loan limits by qualifying as an independent student, getting a private student loan with someone other than the parent as a cosigner, and tuition installment plans.

Read on to learn how to get student loans without your parents’ support.

Four Action Steps to Get a Student Loan Without a Parent

Although it can be difficult to get a student loan without your parents’ information or credit history to support your application, it is possible, at least for some people. You can get student loans without parents if you’re classified as an independent student or, in some cases, a dependent student.

To get a loan for college without your parents’ help, use the right strategies to get a parent-free loan:

1. Fill out the FAFSA form

The one step in the “no-parent” student loan that requires a parent’s involvement is the FAFSA form. The FAFSA is a prerequisite for getting a federal student loan. The form requires parental information if the student is a dependent. Signing the FAFSA does not obligate the parent to borrow or repay their child’s federal student loans.

2. Explore going independent with your college loan

The U.S. Department of Education offers various loopholes to move your “dependent” status to an “independent” status. Students can’t declare themselves independent, even if they live independently and are financially self-sufficient.

Very few options for becoming independent are under the student’s control. Students who are married, have children or legal dependents other than a spouse, serve on active duty with the U.S. Armed Forces, or are in graduate school may be considered independent for financial aid purposes. Some other criteria may also be used to determine dependency status. Otherwise, the students will have to wait until they turn 24 and are automatically considered independent.

If the student is not deemed independent according to these criteria, they may be able to ask the school’s financial aid office for a dependency override in unusual circumstances. However, dependency overrides are very rare and involve extreme cases, such as an abusive household and abandonment.

The college financial aid administrator will not provide a dependency override merely because the parents are unwilling to complete the FAFSA or verification or because the parents are unwilling to pay for college.

Suppose parents can’t or won’t provide their financial information and have cut off all financial support to the student for whatever reason. In that case, the student may qualify for just unsubsidized student loans.

3. Check out tuition installment plans

Most U.S. colleges and universities offer tuition installment plans that can help you take a bite-sized approach to paying down tuition costs – and curb the need for any student loan. If you’ve saved up enough money, paying your tuition via monthly installments buys you some time, so you don’t need to make that huge upfront, lump-sum payment.

Even if you steer $2,500 of your savings toward $10,000 worth of college tuition costs for a semester, that’s $2,500 less than you’ll need to borrow in a student loan scenario. So, ask your bursar’s office about signing up for a tuition payment plan.

Tuition installment plans are also a good option if the student is trying to work their way through college.

4. Check your FAFSA Submission Summary

Once the FAFSA form is complete, the student and their family will get a FAFSA Submission Summary in a few days or, more likely, in a few weeks. All the data recorded by students and parents is on that form.

When you get your FAFSA Submission Summary, check it thoroughly for accuracy. The information included is used to calculate the amount of financial aid available for the student. If the amount isn’t enough for college costs, the student can apply for federal student loans (as long as they remain under the loan maximum cap) without getting their parents involved.

Hit the Sweet Spot with a Parentless Federal Student Loan

A “parentless” student loan is easier to achieve than you might think when you focus on public rather than private student loans.

Most U.S. college students are eligible for Federal Direct Loans (or “Stafford Loans”), which do not depend on the applicant’s credit history and do not require a cosigner. The applicant does need to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which usually requires the parent’s financial information if the student is a dependent student, but this does not obligate the parents to borrow or to cosign the loans.

“Dependent Versus Independent” Student Loan Options

Whether the student is considered a dependent or independent student on the FAFSA affects federal student loan limits.

If the student is independent, parental information is not required on the FAFSA, and the loan limits on the Federal Direct Loans are higher.

How high? This table shows the loan limits based on dependency status as well as Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loan amounts:

Year in College

Dependent Student

Independent Student

First Year

$5,500 ($3,500 subsidized)

$9,500 ($3,500 subsidized)

Second Year

$6,500 ($4,500 subsidized)

$10,500 ($4,500 subsidized)

Third and Subsequent Years

$7,500 ($5,500 subsidized)

$12,500 ($5,500 subsidized)

Graduate Students


$20,500 (all unsubsidized)

Medical School


$40,500 (all unsubsidized)

As shown in the table, independent undergraduate students get an additional $4,000 per year in annual loan limits during the first and second years and $5,000 per year during the third and subsequent years.

Graduate students and students in medical school are automatically considered independent students.

In addition, the aggregate loan limits for independent undergraduate students are $57,500, compared with $31,000 for dependent undergraduate students. Graduate students can borrow up to $138,500 ($224,000 for medical school students), including undergraduate student loans.

Graduate students may also be eligible for the Federal Grad PLUS loan, which depends on the borrower’s credit history but does not require a cosigner. However, if the graduate student has an adverse credit history, they may still get a Grad PLUS loan with an endorser, like a co-signer.

There is no shortage of caveats in classifying a college student as dependent or independent when qualifying for student loans without parental help.

The federal government considers you an independent college student if you’re 24 years old (or older) as of December 31 of the financial aid award year. Therefore, you’d qualify for higher loan amounts than a dependent college student.

Additionally, suppose a college student’s parents have both passed on. If the student is a military veteran, married, or has dependents, that student (even if they are an undergraduate) is deemed independent.

Special circumstances may apply, as well. For example, suppose a student’s parents can’t qualify for a Federal Parent PLUS loan because they have bad credit or other financial hardship issues. In that case, the student can qualify for the same loan limits as independent students on their Federal Direct loans.

A Word on Private Student Loans

You can also get a private student loan without a parent, but there’s a pretty big catch.

Private student loans generally require good credit or creditworthy cosigner, but the cosigner does not need to be your parents. Someone else with a good or excellent credit score can cosign the loan. However, convincing a non-parent to co-sign a private student loan is hard. If you have a mentor, grandparent, or trusted friend with sterling credit who will cosign your loan, you may qualify for a private student loan without getting your parents involved.

A few private lenders and products, like Ascent’s Non-Cosigned Outcomes-Based Loan, use criteria other than credit and income, such as GPA or major, to establish eligibility.

Remember that private loans do not offer the same repayment options and benefits as federal loans. These include income-driven repayment plans, a chance for subsidized loans, opportunities for deferment or forbearance if you lose your job, student loan forgiveness programs, and much more. In addition, private student loans may have higher interest rates than federal student loan debt, so be sure to research.

The Parental View

Parents are not obligated to repay a college loan taken out by their student that they didn’t cosign or apply for themselves.

Mom and dad can still contribute to their child’s college education in myriad ways, such as tax-free gifts, 529 college savings plans, or the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Moreover, they’re free and clear of any legal obligation to repay student-only federal or private loans with these options.

That might be the ideal scenario for parents who want to help with a child’s college costs – but only on a limited basis where they call the shots.

Alternative Funding Options 

If you can’t get a student loan on your own, try these alternative funding options:

  • Scholarships. A range of nonprofits, professional organizations, and businesses offer scholarships based on academic merit, financial need, co-curricular talents, and other factors.
  • Work-study programs. This is awarded through a financial aid package and requires part-time employment. Undergraduate and graduate students are eligible based on financial need.
  • Grants. Likewise, a range of federal, state, and private grants, as well as those offered by colleges and nonprofits, are available.
  • Emergency student loans. If you need a short-term loan to cover an emergency, your school may be able to help with an emergency student loan.

At, our goal is to help you make smart decisions about saving and paying for education. Some of the products featured in this article are from partners from whom we receive compensation, but this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own, not those of any bank, investment manager, or student lender. 

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