What Kind of Emergency Funding Is Available for College Students?

By Jennifer Calonia · July 18, 2023 · 6 minute read

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What Kind of Emergency Funding Is Available for College Students?

Regardless of your age and life stage, unexpected bills can derail someone’s finances. Unforeseen events can be particularly challenging for college students who don’t have a lot of wiggle room in their budgets.

If you’re a student who’s experiencing financial hardship — or you’re just worried about how to prepare for a rainy day — be assured that help is available to students in need. Emergency financial aid grants are designed to keep students in college through financial setbacks.

We’ll review your options, and the pros and cons of each, so you can feel ready to take on any situation.

Why You Might Urgently Need More Money as a Student

Students are pretty familiar with seeking financial aid to help pay for tuition, school supplies, and other educational costs. However, some expenses aren’t covered by scholarships and student loans.

Emergency financial aid for college students can help cover the cost of:

•   Medical treatments

•   Job loss

•   Rent increases

•   Financial hardship due to COVID-19

•   Replacement technology, such as a laptop or phone

•   Car repairs

•   Loss of athletic scholarship due to injury

•   Loss of child care services

Some of these costs are fairly common, while others affect only a small percentage of students. The common thread: They’re all unpredictable and financially challenging. (By the way, we have a great guide to money management for college students.)

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HEERF Emergency Grants

Students around the world experienced a sudden shift during the pandemic. Some students also felt a direct financial impact from COVID-19. If your schooling was disrupted by the pandemic, you might be able to receive a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grant. The program was created in March 2020 under the CARES Act and continues through the American Rescue Plan of 2021.

What Are They?

A HEERF grant is a type of emergency grant for students whose lives were upended by the pandemic. In July 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration released the final funds: $198 million.

How Do They Work?

The Department of Education disbursed the emergency financial aid grants for HEERF directly to 244 participating schools. The institutions that received funding are required to allocate a certain percentage as emergency grants for college students. Schools are tasked with identifying students in need, especially those who demonstrate financial hardship. Students who have received a Pell Grant likely meet this requirement.

HEERF emergency financial aid grants can be awarded to online students, DACA recipients, asylum seekers, and other eligible student groups.

Students can use the funds for any expense resulting from the pandemic. That includes the cost of attendance, housing, food, healthcare, or child care.

Pros and Cons of HEERF Emergency Grants

Although emergency college grants can offer financial relief, there are limitations. Below are the pros and cons of HEERF emergency grants for college students.



Awards don’t count toward your Expected Family Contribution School has discretion about who receives funds and how much
Don’t count toward your annual gross income (AGI) for taxes Each school has their own application process
Don’t count as part of your financial aid package.
Can be used toward your cost of attendance or any expense that came up due to COVID-19.

Financial Support From Your College

Other emergency college grants and support programs can be discovered through your school:

Emergency Tuition Assistance

Emergency tuition assistance is designed to help students stay enrolled in school when they’re suddenly unable to cover the cost of attendance. Assistance might be in the form of a grant, scholarship, voucher, or other relief.

If you’re at risk of dropping out of school because an emergency is making it hard to pay your school bills, ask your financial aid office about emergency tuition assistance.

Emergency Food Options

Inflation is making it harder for everyone to pay for groceries. If you’re experiencing food insecurity, ask your Student Affairs office about campus food pantries.

This resource can offer non-perishable goods, like dry pasta, legumes, and canned foods, as well as fresh produce and even basic toiletries (don’t get us started on the “pink tax” for period supplies).

Emergency Housing

Although not many schools have dedicated emergency housing options for their students, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Reach out to your school’s Student Affairs department to inquire about short-term emergency housing programs that might be available.

If your school doesn’t offer emergency housing, they might point you to external resources, such as local nonprofits and community groups.

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Private Student Loans

If you’ve already maximized the federal undergraduate loans or graduate loans you’re eligible for, a private student loan is an alternative financing option. Private student loans are offered by private lenders, like banks, credit unions, and online financial institutions.

This type of student loan can cover an amount up to the certified cost of attendance, minus the financial aid you’ve already received. Private loans can have fixed or variable interest rates, with rates and terms varying by lender. Additionally, private student loans don’t have the same borrower benefits as federal student loans, like loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment, so tread carefully.

Learn more in our private student loans guide.

The Takeaway

If you’re a student who’s struggling financially due to an unexpected expense or event, help is available. Reach out to your School Affairs or Financial Aid office, explain your situation, and learn about emergency financial aid grants. The federal HEERF program can cover any expense related to Covid-19, from tuition to hospital bills. Other emergency programs can help you cover housing, food, and other basic needs. If you’re ineligible or have exhausted your grant options, private student loans are an alternative to consider.

With SoFi private student loans, you can borrow up to your school’s certified cost of attendance with zero fees. And getting prequalified online takes only minutes, so you can get financing for school fast during an emergency.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.


What did the CARES Act do for college students?

The CARES Act, which was passed in March 2020 as a response to COVID-19, offered student loan repayment relief and emergency grants for college students. Federal student loan borrowers were provided automatic administrative loan forbearance and a pause on interest. Eligible students can also receive emergency aid through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).

Will there be another CARES Act for college students?

In July 2022, the Department of Education announced that it allotted the final funds toward the HEERF. The amount of $198 million was provided to 244 colleges to help their students recover from the pandemic.

Are there grants for students due to Covid-19?

Yes, the federal government created a college emergency grant, called the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). The program was created under the CARES Act in March 2022 and continues under the American Rescue Plan.

Photo credit: iStock/photo

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