Jon O'Donnell Updated on December 1, 2017

It happens all the time. Aid that covered you in the fall isn't available in the spring.

As the holiday shopping season ramps up and the fall semester wraps up, many families find there is a difference between their budget and the tuition bill due.

But you don’t have to set your family’s educational progress back by taking a semester off. Here are five ways to make up the balance.

1.  Contact your school's financial aid office

If your family’s expected financial contribution or EFC is more than your family’s actual ability to pay, you might consider filing an appeal to your award letter or filling out a special circumstances form, even if it has been several months since you received your award.

You may be eligible for additional grants, scholarships or other aid, especially if your family has new or extenuating circumstances which make it difficult to pay such as large medical payments, a loss of job, a divorce or even just a significant reduction in income from last year’s tax filing.

Even if you have already appealed your award letter for the year, the financial aid office may still be able to help. Many schools offer payment plans that allow you to divide the remaining balance into smaller payments made over several months or even longer. And some schools may also offer emergency loans for students with extenuating circumstances.

Be sure to call your financial aid office as soon as you realize you have a tuition gap so you have as much time to troubleshoot as possible.

2.  Scholarships

Though many scholarships are only available once a year, don’t overlook the opportunities available in the spring. Many scholarships are offered multiple times a year, including the Nitro Scholarship and the $2,018 Nitro Parent Scholarship, both of which are offered monthly. Be sure to check out our database of scholarships, which includes specialized scholarships. Some examples are:

3.  Part-time work or work-study

If your tuition gap is manageable, you may be able to pay it down with part-time work, especially in combination with a payment plan set up by your school. And be sure to check in for opportunities in the work-study program. Because many students graduate in the fall or go abroad in their spring semester, there may be new positions available that weren’t available the previous semester.

4.  Reduce costs

Another way you can meet the gap is by reducing your bill. Some options include dropping classes to reduce your tuition bill or even reducing your enrollment status to half-time. If on-campus housing costs are the cause of your gap, moving home might be the best option to stay in school.

You might also consider transferring to a community college or a branch campus closer to home, especially for your first two years of college. You can always transfer back to your college or university when you are ready for more advanced classes.

5.  Private loans

If all else fails, you may want to take out a private loan to cover your balance. Though the loan is in the student’s name, a parent will likely need to co-sign for the loan if the student has no credit history.

Before you apply for a private loan, make sure you filled out your FAFSA to get all the grants you deserve.

And remember, you can always combine strategies, for instance, by dropping a class, setting up a payment plan and taking a part-time position.

Paying for college is a year-round issue that many families face. By being proactive and exploring all your options, you can make sure the student in your family stays on track for graduation.

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