If the pandemic has caused a change in your college funding situation, you're certainly not alone. In our recent survey of over 6,500 high school seniors and their parents, 69% of parents and 55% of students reported that COVID-19 has impacted their ability to pay for college.
A drop in income right before you begin college can certainly be a cause for anxiety. But here's the good news: There are plenty of ways to get college money that don't involve taking on crushing amounts of student loan debt. Let's look at some strategies that may give you the boost you need.
1. See if you can get more financial aid
The first place to start your quest for more college dollars is with your school. There are two ways to do this.
The first is through the financial aid office. If your family has experienced a change in income since you filled out the FAFSA last fall, you may qualify for additional funding assistance. Get in touch with your school ASAP to let them know about your situation. Learn more here.
The second is through the college admissions office. Schools often have additional funds to give out as merit aid, which is not dependent on your family's financial situation. These funds are generally dispersed at the school's discretion for any number of reasons, including grades, leadership, character, or other factors. It's worth your time to contact the admissions department and make a direct appeal for additional merit aid.
2. Nab a part-time job that has tuition reimbursement
One often-overlooked form of college funding is tuition reimbursement. Believe it or not, there are multiple options for taking advantage of employer funding by working restaurants and retailers that are probably operating in your community.
For example, Wal-Mart, Chipotle, and Starbucks all offer rather generous tuition reimbursement programs, even for part-time work.
Sometimes the best sources of funding are right under your nose. Often, scholarship opportunities from local organizations have less competition. Even if the awards are only in the hundreds of dollars instead of the thousands, keep in mind that all of those sources of "free money" add up.
If you're a member of a religious organization, there may be scholarships offered via your local congregation or through the wider organization.
Talk to your parents/guardians, grandparents, and other relatives about scholarship opportunities through their jobs. Often, parents are surprised to find that their employers have scholarships they weren't aware of. If your parent or guardian has served in the military, there may be multiple scholarships you could qualify for.
You may also be able to get funding based on your heritage through cultural groups such as the Ancient Order of the Hibernians or similar organizations.
For even more scholarship opportunities, check out Nitro's scholarship database which currently includes over 1100 active opportunities.
4. Join the ROTC
The Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or ROTC, provides opportunities for scholarships for tuition, room and board, books, and other expenses for students who qualify. The aid can be quite generous if you're willing to enlist in a branch of the military for a period of time after graduation and if you're able to meet requirements for academic performance and physical health.
If you're not sure that you're willing to commit to serving in the Army, Navy, or Air Force after graduation, know that you can join an ROTC program for a trial period before you decide. However, keep in mind that enlistment is generally a requirement to receive a scholarship.
Contact your local recruitment office to find out more.
5. Take the pain out of applying for scholarships
Writing essay after essay in the hopes of nabbing a scholarship can be frustrating. We totally get it. But know that not all scholarships require labor-intensive efforts to apply.
Our $2,000 Nitro Scholarship takes about 30 seconds to apply for — and you can re-apply every month! Even better, your parent or guardian can apply as well, giving you a whopping 24 opportunities to win every year. Set a calendar reminder on your phone so you don't miss any chances.
6. Use a private student loan to fill tuition gaps
After you've explored all of your sources of free money through scholarships and financial aid, and you've maxed out your federal student loan options, private student loans can help cover the rest of your college costs. Use our NitroScore tool to get a better picture of how student loan payments will impact your post-graduation financial picture.
You can also check out our picks for the best deals on student loans. We're constantly reviewing loans from our highly-vetted partner lenders to make it easy for you to find the best loan package to finance your education.
Here's to your future
Remember to look at college as an investment in your future rather than an expense. With some strategic planning and a little elbow grease, you don't need to delay your college dreams due to temporary setbacks.
Trish Sammer is Nitro's managing editor. Her work has appeared in Woman’s Day, Redbook, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Forbes. She has also written for various corporate clients, including the tech giant SAP, The Franklin Institute, and PSE&G. When Trish isn’t busy acting as a writing ninja for other people, you can find her … well, writing about other stuff, like divorce and blended family life. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband, their combined brood, and the world’s laziest dog. Read more by Trish Sammer