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What to Do If You Run Out of Financial Aid

College is a big investment. So big, sometimes, that you need more money than you originally thought in order to cover the costs.

If your spring semester tuition bill comes due and what’s in your bank account simply won’t cut it, here are some things you can do.

1. Call your school’s financial aid office immediately.

If the financial aid you’ve been awarded is running out, the first thing you should do is call your college’s financial aid office. This is what they’re there for (well, it’s one of the things, anyway), so put them to work! Your college’s financial aid officers are trained to help you solve this problem.

What they’ll advise depends on a variety of things, but three routes they may suggest you to take are:

A Payment Plan

If you have some of the money you need to pay for the semester, but not all, your college may allow you to pay the difference over the course of months instead of upfront. That will give you time to rustle up some funds over time so that you can pay that smaller bill each month.

A Need-Based Grant

If part of the reason you’re unable to pay your full tuition bill is because you’re facing financial hardship, your school may be able to help you pay via a need-based grant, which is money that doesn’t need to be paid back. Don’t be shy. Disclose any financial difficulty you’re facing to your financial aid officer so that they can determine if you qualify for this kind of help.

Other Loans

If you don’t qualify for a grant (or one isn’t available) but you’re still facing financial hardship, the financial aid office may have emergency loan options available that come directly from the school. Ask what non-federal loan programs might exist to help you cover the gap. Just be sure you’re clear on the terms — interest rate, repayment period, service charges, etc. — before accepting this option.

2. Beg, Borrow, or Steal. (OK, don’t steal.)

If whatever your financial aid office is offering you isn’t enough (or, if they’re not offering you anything), it might be time to swallow your pride. Can you ask your parents to help you out and give you money? Or, are they willing to give you a personal loan?

If both of those options are out of the question, there may be another way your parents can help, though it may not be feasible until the following semester. When you fill out the FAFSA again, they may be able to apply for a PLUS loan, which is a federal loan that can be taken out by parents on behalf of undergraduate students who are their dependents. If a gift or personal loan from your parents won’t work, perhaps they’ll be willing to work with you in this way should you face a similar situation the next year.

3. Work it.

Speaking of working, if you don’t currently have a job, now might be a great time to get one. Many experts agree there are benefits to working while in college even beyond the extra money, but the cash is really what you’re after in this case, and it will prove especially helpful if you’re granted a payment plan by your financial aid office.

4. Apply for really easy scholarships.

The best kind of money is free money, so if you need cash, applying for scholarships would be a good way to get some. Niche offers a ton of scholarships as well as a tool to help you find the best ones for you.

However, it’s of course not guaranteed that scholarship money will come your way when you need it to, so it makes sense to prioritize scholarships that take little time to apply to, and put your name in the hat for as many of those as you can. Easy scholarships are the ones that will be most worth your while when time is of the essence.

5. Look into private loans.

When no other source of funds is going to get you all the money you need, there’s still one more option out there, and it’s private student loans. Private student loans are non-federal loans offered not by the Department of Education, but by a bank or other loan service provider.

In a real pinch, a private student loan may be the right way to go, but there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Interest rates tend to be higher than those associated with federal loans.
  2. There’s typically less leeway when it comes to repaying them. The window to pay is shorter, there usually aren’t income-based repayment options, and frequently, there are no forbearance or deferment options.
  3. Cosigners are often required, so you may still need to call in a favor from your parents.

In short, if you need money for college and no other sources are available, private loans are there, and that’s a good thing. But if you take this step, go into it with eyes wide open. Understand the terms and have a plan in place for repaying them.

Explore private loans here

Author: Ali Trachta

Ali is the former Content Writer/Editor at Niche. She's a content strategist and award-winning writer, as well as a former editor at LA Weekly and NEXTpittsburgh. As a mom of one who's lived and worked all across the country, she's glad to have once again found her niche in her hometown of Pittsburgh.