What to Do if Your College Financing Falls Short

If you're facing expenses that aren't covered by traditional financial aid, you still have options.

Many students who receive financing from colleges still have trouble covering all of their costs. If you’re facing expenses that you can’t meet with earnings or savings, grants and scholarships, and federal student loans, you still have options.

Did you know? You can request additional financing from your school at any time, including in the middle of the academic year.

Ask Your School for More Financing Help

Requesting more financing may be a good idea if the information from your FAFSA no longer reflects your current financial circumstances, or if you experience a major life change (like having a child, losing a job, or facing increased medical costs) during college. These requests are called appeals, and the college can grant your appeal by adjusting your expected costs or updating the financial information used to determine how much financing you can receive. There’s no guarantee you’ll get more financing, but making the request costs nothing but time, so don’t hesitate to ask if you need it. 

Asking for additional student loans is not advised unless you are sure the higher amounts of debt will be affordable to you. You can use our Affordability Calculator to help guide you. If you are already at your maximum debt level, ask your school for additional grants and scholarships or ask if they will simply reduce their tuition for you, also known as a “discount.” 

Keep in mind that while purchases like a car or house may affect your budget, financial aid offices considering appeals typically give more weight to financial constraints that come from unexpected or unavoidable circumstances. 

To request more financing, contact your college’s financial aid office for information about how to complete their appeals process. Colleges have different processes for handling appeals, but the process typically involves providing documentation about how your financial circumstances have changed. 

Your financial aid office may send you forms to fill out and/or request that you submit an “appeal letter.” If you’re not sure what to write, SwiftStudent’s free appeal letter templates may be a helpful starting point. You may also need to ask someone in a position of authority who is familiar with your changed circumstances (like a parent, employer, social worker, counselor, or teacher) to write a letter on your behalf explaining and confirming the situation.

Remember: The financial aid office has the final say in your request, so make the best case you can.

Explore Other Financial Aid Options

Many colleges offer “emergency aid” programs specifically to help students with unexpected expenses. This type of assistance is never included in an initial financial aid offer, and instead is considered on an as-needed basis, and funds are often limited. 

Depending on the school and program, emergency aid can be used to cover tuition and fees, as well as living expenses like transportation, food, books and supplies, and housing. Emergency aid could take the form of grants and/or no- or low-interest-rate loans from the school. Some schools offer vouchers to cover transportation or food specifically, and many schools provide free food pantries for students. 

Your school can also help you determine if you’re eligible for other non-financial aid benefits programs. For example, some low-income college students qualify for SNAP, a federal nutrition program that provides money for food, and your school may be able to help you enroll. You may also be eligible for other federal or state benefits programs that can help with medical insurance, housing, and childcare, and you can ask your school if they can help connect you to those supports.

To learn more about available emergency aid and other support resources, contact your school’s financial aid office and/or student affairs office. 

Extra Aid May Be Available During Emergencies and Disasters. In the event of a major local, state, or national emergency (such as the COVID-19 pandemic or a natural disaster), the federal government, states, and colleges often step in to provide emergency grants or flexibilities to help college students. Your school will provide information about these programs if they are available.

What to Do if You’ve Exhausted All Your Financial Aid Options

It’s important to make every effort to find all the scholarships you can, and websites like the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop Scholarship Finder can help you explore all your options. But sometimes there just isn’t enough financing available to cover your costs. If all your savings, grants and scholarships, federal student loans, and other financial aid fall short of meeting all your expenses, consider the options below. Only consider additional debt if repayment will be affordable to you. If you’re still left with unmanageable costs, you may want to consider more affordable colleges. Our Affordability Calculator can help guide you on the maximum amount you should borrow as well as compare the costs and affordability of other schools.

Revisit Your Budget

Look at your budget to try and identify places where you can reasonably reduce your costs. Some college expenses will be fixed, but others are affected by choices you make throughout your enrollment. It may be possible to reduce how much you spend on books by buying them used. Or maybe there is a more affordable living arrangement you can consider. When exploring different budgeting options, be realistic about what it will take to maintain your personal health and safety — eating less food than you need, for example, is not a reasonable way to manage a tight budget.

Find a Part-Time Job

Working while you’re enrolled can help you cover costs and gain useful experience — particularly if you find a job that is aligned with your academic and longer-term career interests. When considering work, be mindful of the need to stay focused on completing your program. Working more than 15 to 20 hours a week can make it harder to study, complete your classes, and succeed in school. If you’d need to reduce your course load to accommodate extra work hours, you will extend your time in college, which adds cost in the long run. On-campus jobs that offer flexible hours that accommodate your class schedule are a good first place to look.

Consider Private Loans

Private loans are generally more costly and don’t guarantee the same repayment options that come with federal student loans, which is why federal student loans should be your first choice if you need to borrow. If you’ve already borrowed the maximum amount available in federal student loans and exhausted all other alternatives, borrowing additional loans provided by a private lender like a bank is a last resort option but again, use our calculator to make sure your total loan burden will be affordable. As you consider a private loan, be sure to take the time to read and understand the terms of the loan, including what safeguards are available if you hit hard times.

A resource from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, created with support from The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS)