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Taking care of an unexpected tuition tab

Explore all of your options when confronting a

Explore all of your options when confronting a surprisingly large tuition bill, experts say. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/JackF

In the past couple of weeks, you may have received a tuition bill for the fall semester of college and had an “oh my” reaction. Sticker shock surprises are not uncommon when the tuition tab shows up.

Here’s what you need to know about tuition bills.

Make sense of the changes

Families often don't realize that the final bursar's bill may differ significantly from the financial aid award letter, and that the award letter may differ from the results of the net price calculator, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of

“It is important to calculate the net price — total costs, minus gift aid like grants and scholarships — since the net price is the amount you will have to pay from savings, income and loans,” he adds.

In the case of public colleges, know too, that costs and financial aid may change due to the timing of state appropriations.

Fund the gap

What if the amount you owe is not only unexpected, but also caught you when you're short of the money to pay for it? It's time to explore all your options.

If you can’t pay your bill, contact the college's financial aid office and ask if it's possible to pay the balance in installments. Some schools offer plans that allow families to make equal monthly payments instead of one lump sum, says Teddy Nykie, an adviser with

Emma Kerr, who writes about paying for college for U.S. News & World Report in Washington, D.C., offers some tips: “Appeal the financial aid decision through a letter, which should outline the family’s unique circumstances and include documentation if possible as proof of a change in the family’s financial situation. Look into late deadline scholarships and part-time jobs.”

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