Your tuition deadlines could be fast-approaching this fall semester, or you’re worrying about how you’re going to fund your next term. If you’ve had a medical emergency, an unexpected bill, or simply didn’t qualify for the aid you expected this semester, your college expenses might be more than you can handle.
But don’t panic! We’ve asked experts to share their advice for finding last-minute funding, and they’ve given us some bright ideas that could keep you on the pathway to a degree.
Head to the financial aid office
As with most of your college financial concerns, you should start by heading to your university’s financial aid office. If you visit the office frequently, you might even be able to avoid this last-minute scramble for aid altogether, because the university’s financial experts can remind you of upcoming deadlines and identify funding opportunities that are right for you.
“Sometimes there may actually still be scholarships or grants (because they have gone unclaimed), work-study openings, or at least they can usually get you emergency loans,” Robert Farrington, creator of TheCollegeInvestor.com, explains.
You might need some of those options broken down. While additional, unclaimed grants and scholarships are easy to understand, what could be your options with work-study programs and emergency loans?
Find a work-study job
A work-study program is federally- or state-funded and offers students the chance to work a part-time job in return for financial aid. To qualify, you’ll need to have filled out the FAFSA (opting to receive work-study aid), and your university needs to be participating in the Federal Work-Study Program.
Thousands of universities are part of the program, and it has one massive benefit: your earnings from a work-study won’t count against you when you fill out the FAFSA to determine your aid for the next year. While any other internship or part-time gig could give you a boost, a work-study doesn’t allow that boost to count against you next year.
Your financial aid counselors can help you find any openings in this program. Positions are usually on-campus jobs, and you might be lucky enough to find one related to your field of interest.
Apply for emergency loans
Emergency loans are specifically designed to address your last-minute crisis. An emergency loan is usually less than $2,500, with most sources estimating that the amount will be around or below $1,000.
Emergency loans typically have strict requirements and a brief repayment period of 30 to 90 days. But schools can also offer emergency grants, book vouchers, food vouchers, and housing assistance.
This is why Lindsey Conger, college counselor at Moon Prep, advises that “if your family's financial circumstances have changed within the last couple of months, write a letter to the financial aid office letting them know about the change. If a parent lost her job, or a family member had a health emergency, write and tell them the reason why it is now impossible to afford college.”
Read also: Expert Advice on Your College Payment Plan
Appeal your aid award
The ability to appeal your FAFSA aid award is built into the process. “If . . . your financial situation has changed since you submitted the form — or if you have another offer you can leverage in a negotiation — you can appeal your financial aid award,” Teddy Nykiel, client service manager at My College Planning Team explains. “Check with your school's financial aid office for details on the appeals process.”
If you haven’t already gotten the hint, your university financial aid office is going to be critical with every one of these methods. That is especially the case when appealing your FAFSA aid. Your school’s financial aid administration will be the ones who grant your appeal, and they can give you more information on your university’s specific process.
Find niche scholarships
If your situation is less dire, or you don’t qualify for an emergency loan or FAFSA aid, you could still seek out your financial counselor to tap into community support. “When looking for last-minute college aid, start with local scholarships,” Logan Allec, @moneydoneright, a CPA and owner of personal finance site Money Done Right says. “Chances are better with local organizations who are looking to award those in their own community with college funding.”
Local scholarships go unnoticed on a national level, meaning there will be less competition. Additionally, smaller scholarships might have looser deadlines and less requirements. As Allec explains it, “With deadlines peppered throughout the year, you’re sure to find a scholarship that matches your credentials and financial needs.”
Students can also look for scholarships geared toward last-minute support. “Participate in contests for scholarships which begin close to the deadline and are specifically designed for folks who wait till the last minute,” David Bakke, a contributor for Money Crashers, advises. “And the contest typically involves something a bit more interesting than crafting an essay, for example.”
Most students don’t think to apply for scholarships last minute; they usually assume deadlines are past. This gives you an advantage in a smaller pool of applicants.
Ask your parents
Depending on your where you are in your journey for financial independence, you could contact your parents for help. Travis Hornby, expert at Student Loan Planner, says, “There are so many private lenders right now that any reasonably qualified parent should be able to get up to 50k for undergrad.”
Most students are building credit and don’t have a job that could pay off a loan, so they typically need cosigners. While cosigning a loan comes with a high level of risk, particularly with a projected 40 percent of graduates defaulting on their loans by 2023, your parents might be gracious enough to cosign with you.
Find a private lender
If all else fails, you could take on more loans. “There is usually still the option of private loans that may come through fast enough to be there just when you need them,” Farrington says.
But buyer beware. Private loans have stricter repayment terms than federal loans, and they often accrue interest while a student is still enrolled in college. Taking on more private loans is not a decision to make rashly and should therefore be done with careful consideration. Read reviews on private lenders before you apply, and ensure you’ve exhausted every other avenue first.
Take steps to keep this from happening again
Paying for college is stressful; you don’t want to end up in this spot again. Reassess your financial situation, create a budget, and evaluate whether college is a sunk cost for you. Can you make it through without taking on such significant debt that it will severely impact your future? About 40 percent of college grads don’t think their education was worth the cost — will that figure soon include you?
If you have a strong understanding of your financial outlook, you’ll be better able to prevent another last-minute crisis and discover whether college is your asset or liability. The majority still think a degree is worth it, but it won’t be worth for you if you find yourself in a severe financial deficit.