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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Frequently asked questions
It depends on your school’s policy and how late your FAFSA application was. In many cases, your school won’t charge you any late fees if you’re waiting on financial aid to come in, since that’s out of your control.
Yes, there are several scenarios where your financial aid might get suspended — from failing too many classes to getting arrested for a drug-related offense. Learn what to avoid by reading our article on when your financial aid can get pulled.
No, you generally can’t go to jail for skipping out on any bills, including tuition. It can ruin your credit when it goes into collections, however. And if a judge rules that you have to pay the school, you could go to jail for not following a court order.
Anna Serio is a trusted lending expert and certified Commercial Loan Officer who's published more than 1,000 articles on Finder to help Americans strengthen their financial literacy. A former editor of a newspaper in Beirut, Anna writes about personal, student, business and car loans. Today, digital publications like Business Insider, CNBC and the Simple Dollar feature her professional commentary, and she earned an Expert Contributor in Finance badge from review site Best Company in 2020.
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