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10 ways to pay for college at the last minute

What to do when you're skirting the deadline.

Updated

You won’t necessarily get kicked out of school if some of your financial aid fell through — or you just didn’t have time to get the money together. Talk to your school, family and friends to make sure you’ve considered all of your options. In the worst case, you can take a semester off to gain work experience and figure out your finances before finishing your degree.

1. Talk to your school’s financial aid office

The first step you should take is to set up an appointment with your school’s financial aid office. Financial aid officers are experts who can review your case and give you personalized advice on what steps to take next.

They can tell you if you’ve forgotten to apply for something, explain what late fees you’ll have to pay — if any — and if there’s any way you can cut back on your cost of attendance. They also might be able to rework your financial aid package to cover all of your costs.

2. Fill out the FAFSA if you haven’t already

You have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to receive federal loans, grants and work-study. It’s also necessary for some private and institutional scholarship and grant programs.

If you haven’t completed it and your tuition is due, let your financial aid office know and do it as soon as possible. The deadline to apply for your current semester is at the end of the academic year, so it’s not too late. You’ll likely receive enough aid to cover your expected family contribution (EFC) — how much the government thinks your family can afford to contribute toward your education.

3. Submit a financial aid appeal

If you’ve submitted the FAFSA, talked to your school’s financial aid office and it still isn’t enough, consider filing a financial aid appeal. You might be able to get more funds — especially if your financial situation has recently changed. Each school has its own financial aid appeal process, but typically you need to submit a letter presenting your case and fill out a few forms.

4. Start a crowdfunding campaign

When your school won’t budge, consider raising funds by collecting small donations from your friends, family and social network. Some crowdfunding platforms like PeduL specialize in funding for college. Or you can also consider a general-use site like GoFundMe.

Typically, there’s no cost to sign up. But platforms charge a fee of around 3% to 5% of the money you raise, so factor that into your fundraising goal.

5. Scout last-minute scholarships and grants

While your options are a lot more limited at the last minute, you still might be able to make the deadline for some scholarships and grants. Ask about options that might be available to you when you speak with your school’s financial aid office. You can also use scholarship databases to look for smaller scholarships and grants you can qualify for.

Find out where to get started with your scholarship search

6. Look into an emergency student loan

Many schools offer interest-free loans of up to around $500 to help students cover tuition or personal costs in an emergency. These can be useful if you’re having short-term cashflow issues. But since repayments are typically due in 30 to 60 days, you might need to look elsewhere if you don’t think you’ll have the money by then.

5 steps to getting an emergency student loan

7. Apply for private student loans

Some private lenders might be able to help you cover the rest of the cost of attendance, even after the semester started. Since they’re often more expensive and less flexile than federal loans, these are designed to cover the gaps left after receiving other financial aid. If you’re not working or don’t have credit, you might need to bring on a cosigner to meet the eligibility requirements.

Compare private student loans

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Min. Credit Score Max. Loan Amount APR
SoFi Student Loans
680
Full cost of attendance
1.90% to 11.76% with autopay
Undergraduate financing with no late fees to US citizens with good credit.
Earnest Student Loans
650
Cost of attendance
Starting at 1.24%
Undergrad and graduate financing with a nine-month grace period.
EDvestinU Private Student Loans
675
$200,000
4.092% to 8.609% with autopay
Straightforward student loans for undergraduate and graduate students.
CommonBond Private Student Loans
700
$500,000
3.31% to 9.74%
Finance your college education through this lender with a strong social mission and terms that fit your budget.
Edvisors Private Student Loan Marketplace
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Quickly compare private lenders for your school and apply for the right student loan.
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Compare up to 4 providers

8. Ask about tuition payment plans

If it’s tuition and fees you’re struggling with — and you can afford to repay what you owe in a few months — ask about a tuition payment plan. Most schools offer repayment plans that allow you to break up your tuition payments into installments, often over six months. You usually have to pay a fixed fee of around $75 to sign up for a payment plan, but most schools don’t charge interest.

Jump on this as soon as possible, since most schools have payment plan application deadlines.

9. Look for a part-time job

While work-study jobs can be difficult to find last minute, you still might be able to cover your personal expenses by applying for a job on campus or near your school. In fact, you might even make more than you would have on work-study, since that program often pays minimum wage.

Be careful about taking on too many hours, however. If your grades slip, you could lose eligibility for federal aid, scholarships and even some grants.

10. Cut back on your living expenses

Look at your spending habits and see where you can make adjustments to lower your total cost of attendance. For example, consider moving back in with your parents if commuting is an option. Also, look into free resources like student food pantries to reduce food costs and avoid an expensive meal plan.

What happens to my loans if I have to take a semester off?

Taking a break from school triggers your grace period on most student loans. Once that happens, you have six months to start making full repayments or enroll in classes again — federal and some private loans allow you to defer repayments while you’re in school.

If you go back to school, however, it’ll cost you. That’s because interest starts adding up on nearly all student loans as soon as they’re issued. When you start making repayments, that unpaid interest gets added to your loan balance. The more time you give interest to add up, the higher your balance will be.

Bottom line

You don’t necessarily have to take the semester off if classes have started and you don’t have all the funding you need. Speaking to your school’s financial aid office as soon as possible is crucial to learning about what steps to take first. You can find out about more ways to pay for school by checking out our guide to student loans.

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