Here's What to do If There is a Gap in Your Financial Aid Award
1. Contact the Financial Aid Office
Call the school's financial aid office and tell them about your dilemma. If it could affect your ability to accept their offer, the school might be able to help you by providing extra funding or suggesting alternative funding sources. They might also have additional financial aid or scholarship money available from students who have declined their offers.
2. Appeal Your Award Letter
If your circumstances have changed since you submitted the FAFSA, you may have options to appeal your financial aid award with the school. Job loss or change, divorce or separation, high medical expenses or other special circumstances that affect your family's finances are worth discussing with the school. You'll likely have to submit additional documentation, but it could mean that you end up getting more financial aid.
3. Sign Up for a Payment Plan
Some colleges offer payment plans for those who can't pay all of the semester's tuition and residence fees at once. If this could help you, contact your school's bursar's office to see what payment options are available.
4. Apply for Scholarships
It's not too late to apply for scholarships. While many scholarship deadlines are in the fall, there are some scholarships that aren't dispersed until later in the academic year. To find them, use online resources like the Discover Student Loans Free Scholarship Search and ask your guidance counselor or financial aid office if there are any scholarships available in your community or at your school. Your parents' employers might also offer scholarships. Apply for any awards that you qualify for, even if they're for small amounts. Every little bit helps and generally fewer people apply for small awards, increasing your chances of winning.
5. Get a Job
You might have hoped to spend your summer relaxing or working unpaid internships to gain experience, and you might not have planned to work part-time during the school year. Still, a paying job could help make up your funding gap. If you have a special skill, like graphic design, offer your services to local businesses. You can also look for traditional part-time jobs or paid internships to work throughout the year.
6. Ask for Help
One new method that students are using to close their funding gaps is using crowdfunding sites. While you're less likely to get money from strangers, you can tell your friends and family about your fundraiser and they might be willing to help you pay for college.
Take Out Student Loans
If you didn't get enough free financial aid to cover your expenses, then consider federal and private student loans. Compare the federal student loans from your award letter to private student loans and choose the loans that best fit your needs. Both federal and private student loans offer in-school deferment, so payments won't be required until 6 months after you graduate (or drop below half-time enrollment). Just remember that interest may continue to accrue even if payments aren't due, so if you can make even small monthly payments, it will help reduce the overall loan cost.
While a gap between your funding package and what you and your family can afford to pay for college might justifiably cause you stress, there are ways to make up the difference. If you take action now, you'll likely be able to walk onto campus in the fall without having to worry about tuition.