Your college readiness checklist is basically complete.
- Acing the last few semesters in high school? Check.
- Spending quality time with your friends and fam? Check.
- Saving money for all those textbooks? Check.
- Researching and visiting potential schools? Check.
- Finishing the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA)? Check.
There’s a huge gap between what the school is offering and the actual cost of attendance. Your family is already stretched to the max with the estimated family contribution as it is. So, what can be done to make up a gap of a few thousand (or more) dollars?
You’re not alone in this situation. In the last ten years, college tuition in some places has increased by about 60%, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Students in the United States are carrying close to $1.4 trillion in college loan debt to close these gaps. And loans are an option but not your only course of action.
Here’s what you do to get help paying for college.
1. Talk to the financial aid office
Get on the phone with the financial aid office at your future school. Give them the specific details–how much 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 and offer suggestions about why the gap may be so large (e.g. your parent lost a job or there was a major medical emergency in the family). Include documentation to backup your story.
3. Keep applying for scholarships
Many scholarships have rolling deadlines.
Fill out a profile on a scholarship search engine like the College Board or Fastweb. Keep an eye on submission dates when your search results come up. There’s a lot of scholarship money out there that goes unused, so sometimes awards are open late into the year. Also check with your own employer and your parents’ employers. They may offer specific employee-related scholarships.
You can also use our special Nitro scholarship search engine to get highly personalized results.
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 school last minute. You’ll find easy hacks and great information when you know where to look.
5. Get to work (literally)
You may have been offered Federal Work-Study as part of your award. And that job will definitely help pay for college. But it may not be enough, because you'll earn that money throughout the semester.
To cover a gap, consider working part-time or full-time to between now and when you need to leave for school.
6. Ask for help
It’s probably not likely that a rich grandma 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.
7. Get on a payment plan
Payment plans can make the financial gap a little easier to pay off. 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.
Paying for college in the face of a huge gap between your financial aid award and the actual cost of attendance is not impossible. Your future is bright. You’ll figure this out!
If you still have a tuition gap, it may be time to check into private student loans. See our picks for the The Best Private Student Loans of 2018.