So, you've taken the time to analyze your award letter, and unfortunately, the numbers don't add up: You have a balance to cover. When many students face a tuition gap, they simply turn to alternative loans. But what if you can't borrow a private loan—or don't want to. What do you do?
While you may not have a simple answer to fund your education, that doesn't mean you need to write off your college dreams. Everyone's financial situation is unique, which means everyone's plan to pay for college will be unique too.
Here are some options besides private loans to consider as part of your plan. Talk with your family, guidance counselor, and/or financial aid office to figure out which will work best for you.
Apply For Scholarships
If your balance after looking at your financial aid award isn't manageable, applying for more scholarships could help. I know we mention scholarships about a thousand times on this site, but that's still not enough. There is a lot of free money just waiting for someone like you to find it, and that includes students of any age.
To do that, look at online search engines such as Scholarships.com, Cappex, College Board, or ours right here on Salt®. Financial aid offices at the schools you apply to may know of merit scholarship opportunities. Your high school guidance counselor may know local organizations that offer scholarships. And remember the public library? It doesn't just house books. It may also have a catalog of local scholarship listings that may not be mainstream enough to be online or in your searches.
Look Into Employer Assistance
If you're employed, your workplace may offer full or partial tuition assistance if you're planning to attend school while you work. Your coursework may need to be directly related to your career path, so check with your human resources department to learn about the requirements. Generally, employers reimburse you for tuition after you complete a course (and you may be required to maintain a specific GPS to be eligible), so budget accordingly.
Appeal For Additional Aid
It never hurts to ask for additional financial aid—especially if you have a good reason why you need it. Talk to your financial aid office and explain your situation. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) only looks at specific things. There are many examples of how it might not accurately depict your financial situation, such as:
- A parent has lost their job or has retired.
- A family member has become ill or has been injured.
- You or a parent received a lump sum of money that is required to be used in a specific way.
- A foreclosure.
If you have a compelling argument that you can document, your school may be able to adjust your award letter to assist you. This would be done on a case-by-case basis and only due to extenuating circumstances.
Can you commute from home to reduce your room and board bill? Is there a less expensive room option, like a triple, or can you become an RA and receive free room and board? Are there less expensive meal plan options? Did you look into buying used textbooks?
If you can't think of any ways to cut your costs, talk to your financial aid office. Most will have ideas to help you. You won't be the first one they have talked to about this.
Work Through College
It'll take real commitment from you, but working while you're in school could be a solution if private loans aren't an option for you. Most colleges have career centers where you can find job listings, and they may even be related to your major.
Even working part time could be enough to cover costs of a community college, state school, or private college after you exhaust your financial aid. You'll still have to balance your commitments, but planning can help you do this.
Consider Your College Choice
If you tried the suggestions above but you still can't cover your balance, then it may be time to reconsider your college choice. This isn't a popular solution; however, it doesn't have to be forever.
Is there a state school or community college you could go to for less for a year or two? You may be able to complete intro and required core credits at a much cheaper price. Then, you could apply to transfer to your number-one choice to concentrate on your major. This could really cut your costs, if you were willing to do it.