Need some help paying for college? You're far from alone. Most families find that the estimated family contribution calculation is much higher than they can actually afford. It also doesn't help that college costs are higher than ever, increasing by 37% between 2008 and 2018.
So what can you do to get your education without taking on needless debt? Plenty.
1. Talk to the financial aid office
Get on the phone with the financial aid office at your future school. Give them specific details, including how much aid you were awarded and how big of a gap you’re looking at.
The school may be able to help you find other sources of funding, like school-specific scholarships, grants, or fellowships. There might also be additional financial aid available if other students have declined their offers.
2. Make an appeal
Believe it or not, you can appeal your financial aid award if something in your family's financial situation has changed since you filled out the FAFSA.
First, call the financial aid office and find out where you should send your appeal letter. In the letter, explain your situation (e.g. your parent lost a job or there was a major medical emergency in the family) and provide documentation if you have it.
3. Keep applying for scholarships
Remember that not all scholarships are based on academic or athletic prowess. You can get scholarships based on your ancestry or national heritage, being short or tall, being a vegetarian, identifying as part of the LGBTQ community, and on and on. Be sure to search out scholarships based on any characteristic or niche interest you might have.
Don't forget to check with your own employer and your parents’ employers. They may offer specific employee-related scholarships.
You can also use Nitro’s Scholarship Search Engine as a great first pass at finding additional scholarship awards.
4. Check out other resources
Online forums and websites, like Nitro, offer students and parents tons of information about how to get help paying for college. In fact, we’ve got an ebook guide on how to pay for last minute tuition gaps. You’ll find easy hacks and great information when you know where to look.
5. Get a part-time job that has tuition reimbursement
You might be surprised at the number of national retail and restaurant chains that provide college assistance to employees. Even better, there are several that only require part-time employment.
This valuable benefit varies from company to company, so be sure to find out the details before you apply for a new job. Some companies, like Chipotle, don't limit which schools you may attend. Others, like Starbucks, require you to attend classes through a specific online program.
6. Ask for help
It’s probably not likely that a rich aunt is going to come out of the woodwork to help you pay for college. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make it easy for friends, family, coworkers, and even strangers to help you make a dent in that tuition-aid gap.
Check out crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and YouCaring to set up a campaign. Share your profile widely on social media and watch as the contributions are generously donated. Tip: Asking parents, aunts and uncles, or other loved ones to share your campaign may bring in contributions from unexpected places.
7. Get on a payment plan
Many people are surprised to learn that colleges often offer payments plans. Check with your school’s billing (or bursar’s) office to see if you can spread the costs not covered by financial aid out over the semester (or even the year). By paying off little bits at a time, you may be able to avoid taking out a loan and going into debt. (Note: Your school may charge a small fee to set up a payment plan.)
You got this!
Paying for college in the face of a huge gap between your financial aid award and the actual cost of attendance is not impossible. If you still have a tuition gap, it may be time to check into private student loans. See our picks for The Best Private Student Loans of 2021.