Four Tips for Closing Your Financial Aid Gap

Published August 15, 2018

The fall semester is just around the corner. As you prepare to head to campus, you may find that a gap exists in your financial aid package. If so, it’s time to proactively build a plan to find the money you need. Below I provide four tips for closing your financial aid gap.

Contact Your Financial Aid Office

Begin by discussing your shortfall with the financial aid office at your campus. Ask about availability of additional scholarships and other sources of monies. Make the staff aware of any significant changes in your financial circumstances since you filed your FAFSA.

Look for Additional Scholarships

You may be able to find additional funds in your home department. Contact the department in which your degree program is housed and ask if any scholarships are available. Follow up with your home department, even if you have already received a scholarship. Departments may be able to locate additional funds for their students who have a financial gap. For example, other students may have turned down scholarships, thereby freeing up funds.

Continue to seek additional scholarships using the online search engines available through MyCollegeCorner.com, Petersons.com, Collegeboard.com, Scholarships.com, and Fastweb.com.

Find a Part-Time Job

If you were awarded work-study funds, you must secure a job to receive the money. Most work-study jobs are on campus, but you might find an off-campus job with a nonprofit or public entity. Your campus financial aid office can connect you with work-study job opportunities.

You can, of course, look for a part-time job even if you were not awarded work-study funds. Jobs in your home department are preferred. These jobs provide relevant experience and networking opportunities in addition to providing funds. Contact your department to ask about employment opportunities.

Contact your school’s career center to identify other jobs on campus. These jobs offer the advantage of flexibility to accommodate your academic schedule, and they save time by not requiring off-campus travel.

Picking up an off-campus job may be necessary if you can’t find a job on campus. Look for off-campus job postings at your campus career center, and you can also search online. Be sure to discuss your academic schedule with potential employers.

Borrow Responsibly

If you have exhausted the options above, but still have a gap in your finances, you may want to consider loans. Done responsibly, borrowing can be an option for obtaining gap-closing funds. Both federal and private loans are available. Research both options to determine which is better for your situation.

Direct PLUS Loans are provided by the U.S. Department of Education and are designed to cover costs that other sources of financial aid don’t cover. These fixed-interest loans are available to parents who are supporting dependent children. Students must have filed the FAFSA to be eligible. Review current interest rates, fees, and credit requirements of Direct PLUS Loans by visiting https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/loans/plus.

Many financial institutions provide private loans to help students and families cover gaps in educational expenses. Private loans may offer lower fees, and you may, with excellent credit, obtain a lower interest rate. Students without established credit will need a co-signer.

A quick online search of “Private Student Loans” yields a myriad of lenders. Narrow your choices by comparing fees, interest rates, and repayment options. If you need help getting started, check out CommonBond, Sallie Mae, and LendKey.

Finally, remember that money borrowed through Direct PLUS and private loans must be paid back. If you choose to borrow money to close your financial gap, be sure to read the “fine print” and understand your repayment terms.

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