Strategies for students (and parents) when money for college runs short
September 01, 2021
With the fall semester getting underway, most students have their minds on attending classes and getting good grades – and hopefully not on paying their tuition bill.
But with the cost of college and other living expenses, it's no wonder why paying for college can be a worry for many students and parents.
If you are running short of funds for college, there are some actions you can take:
- Complete the FAFSA. If you haven’t already completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at StudentAid.gov, you should do that right away. For financial assistance for this fall, complete the 2021-22 FAFSA. Your school will use this form to determine your eligibility for federal financial aid. In some cases, the form will be used to determine your eligibility for state aid, financial aid offered by private foundations, or institutional aid offered by your college.
- Contact the university’s financial aid office. This office will be able to provide you some guidance on your specific options at the institution you plan to attend. Remember, it’s a busy time of year so it may take some time to receive a response.
- Ask for a financial aid review or professional judgment. Financial aid reviews or professional judgment are used by financial aid offices to adjust a student’s eligibility for financial aid if they have special circumstances like job loss or unusual medical expenses. It must be done on a case-by-case basis, and it must be unusual circumstances that affect a student’s ability to pay educational expenses. Because of job losses and other economic situations in the past year, many students have been seeking professional judgment.
- Determine if the university has an emergency fund or emergency grant program. Many universities offer emergency assistance to students who are facing sudden or severe financial hardship. Ask the financial aid office if your college offers such a program and how to apply.
- Reduce college costs. One way to pay less for college is to reduce your costs, which could include staying at home (rather than living in a dorm) for a year or two and commuting to campus or taking classes online.
- Research opportunities for outside scholarships and grants. Research scholarship and grant opportunities offered by other companies and organizations. There are several online scholarship databases. Before registering for a scholarship database, research the site to make sure it is legitimate. Be aware of any scholarship scams.
- Look for a job on campus or off campus. Ask the financial aid office if you qualify for the work-study program and about any available jobs. If you don’t qualify or the college doesn’t offer work-study, look for other on campus jobs or off campus jobs to supplement college funds. A general rule of thumb is a student should not work more than 20 hours per week to avoid impacting their education.
- Ask about payment options. Many colleges offer a payment plan option that allows you to pay a portion of the tuition now and the rest in multiple payments later.
- Consider private loans. We recommend this option as a last resort after you have exhausted all other options to pay for college. Private loans can help you fund an education, but they do have to be paid back and often don’t have the benefits offered by federal and/or state student loan programs.
Students have other options as well, such as taking a gap year or looking a lower-cost college. However, those options will interrupt your education and may delay graduation.