With college classes starting soon, ideally you’ve made all your payments and are ready to settle in. But if you’re still looking for financial aid to help cover your tuition, you’ll have to move fast. Here are strategies recommended by people who specialize in college admissions.
- Contact your school’s financial aid office
Call your school today to discuss your options with a financial aid officer, who can lay out funding options or direct you to the school’s payment plan, if available.
“They want the student, they’re expecting the student, they have the deposit, they’re holding a dorm for them, so they have a huge incentive to work things out for the student,” says Donald Heller, provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of San Francisco.
- Submit a student-aid application
If you haven’t already, fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which is used by the federal government, states and schools to determine what kind of aid might be available to you.
Since you’re submitting it close to the start of the fall classes, you may have missed out on certain grants, scholarships or need-based aid, but federal loan options are still available. The student aid award letter you receive from filing the FAFSA will detail what federal loans you may qualify for.
- Find scholarships
Look for scholarships with deadlines that haven’t passed, or ask the financial aid office if your school has scholarships that haven’t yet been awarded. You can find scholarships and deadlines at the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop scholarship finder.
- Consider private student loans
Private loans usually require a co-signer and typically carry higher interest rates than federal subsidized loans, but the private-loan option may be necessary to close a funding gap. College admissions experts advise to borrow no more in student loans over the course of getting your degree than you anticipate making in your first year’s salary.
- Plan long-term options
If you’re still left with a money gap after trying other options, consider deferring your start date for a term or a year to maximize your financial aid. To decide if this will help your financial situation, find out what you may have been eligible for had you submitted a FAFSA on time.
You also need to think beyond last-minute funding and consider whether your school is affordable in the long run.
If your family’s finances have taken a hit since you received a financial aid award, let your school know, since you could be eligible for more aid. “Be honest,” says Lisa Sohmer, an independent college consultant in Los Angeles. “Say, this is what happened — ‘my mother left her job’ or ‘the family relocated’ or ‘my sibling had a health crisis’ — or whatever it is that caused the sudden inability to pay the bill. Find out if there’s anything the financial aid office can do to help.”