Tuition and fees for the 2022-2023 academic year averaged $10,423 at in-state public colleges, and a whopping $39,723 at private colleges. And the price tag for an undergraduate degree keeps going up every year. Any way you look at it, college is a huge expense for students and their family.
Most schools offer financial aid to make college more affordable. But sometimes your initial financial aid offer — which may include need-based aid, federal loans, or both — just isn’t enough to cover the cost. And your family may not be in a position to help you make up the difference. What do you do if you can’t afford college, even with financial aid?
Take heart: There are many options out there to help you pay for higher education. Navigating them can be a challenge, though, especially if you haven’t had to manage major financial responsibilities until now. The key is doing the research and giving yourself enough time to take advantage of all the opportunities available to you.
Here are a few ideas on how you could get more money for school:
Table of Contents
Applying for Scholarships and Grants
There’s a lot of “free money” out there, in the form of scholarships and grants. Your FAFSA form will automatically match you with any federal scholarships and grants you’re eligible for, but there are many other types available.
Start your search by asking the admissions or financial aid department at the school you plan to attend about opportunities the institution offers. Aid might be need-based, merit-based, or a combination of both.
Next, look for funding options outside your school of choice. A search engine like FastWeb.com or FinAid.org can help you hunt down those that are a good fit. SoFi also offers our own Scholarship Search Tool, as well as a State-Based Search Tool.
Another way to surface more-obscure scholarships is to reach out directly to companies and organizations you have some connection to:
• Family members’ employers and associations.
• Community service groups with whom you’ve volunteered.
• Identity/heritage groups listed on Scholarships.com.
• Religious communities you’re involved with.
• Special-interest groups, such as the Starfleet scholarship offered by the Star Trek Fan Association. (There are so many scholarships like this.)
Then carefully prepare your application materials. Typically, you must include a transcript, personal statement, and personal references. You may want to have a teacher, parent, or guidance counselor read over your materials and give you feedback.
It’s remarkable how a bunch of smaller scholarships or grants can add up and help defray the cost of college.
Getting a Work-Study Job
Another way to help pay for college is to work while you’re in school. Federal student aid packages may include a job through the Federal Work-Study program, which aims to fund part-time jobs that are (ideally) in the public interest or related to your field of study. Federal work-study is awarded based on financial need, so it may not be part of every student aid package.
These jobs may be on or off campus, at a non-profit organization, a government agency, or simply within your university. Some schools also set up work-study jobs with for-profit employers, and may be relevant to what you’re studying. These jobs pay at least minimum wage, but sometimes more, depending on the position.
With a work-study job, your school typically pays you by the hour, at least once a month. The number of hours you can work is limited and set by your school. To get the full low-down, ask your school’s financial aid office whether they participate in the Federal Work-Study program, how many hours you qualify for, and what job opportunities exist.
Note that qualifying for work-study doesn’t automatically guarantee you a job. You may still need to find one and apply for it. These opportunities are often limited, so it’s a good idea to start gathering information early if you decide to go this route.
Finding A Part-Time Job
Another route is to look for a part-time job on your own. Your college might have internal job boards that list on-campus jobs for students or jobs that alumni have posted. Because you’re in the same network (either at your school or via alumni), you might have a leg up on outside applicants.
If you don’t find the right fit, be proactive by asking your professors, academic departments, family friends, and establishments around town whether they are looking for help. And of course, check external job sites for part-time opportunities.
Some part-time jobs, like research assistant or tutor, can help build your resume. But don’t discount flexible gigs outside your field of study that just pay well, such as waiting tables or working at an independent market like Trader Joe’s. If you play your cards right, your part-time job can more than make up for a financial aid shortfall.
Taking Out Federal Student Loans
If you still need more funds to fill the tuition gap, taking out additional student loans may still be an option. It’s likely that if you filled out the FAFSA® and received a federal financial aid package, you may have already been awarded federal student loans.
Federal loans offer fixed interest rates and more flexible repayment terms than most private lenders. In most cases, student loans from the federal government don’t require a credit check or a cosigner, which can be especially helpful if you haven’t had time to build up a credit history.
As an undergraduate, you can take out two different types of loans under the Federal Direct Loan program. One of these is a Direct Subsidized Loan, which is awarded based on financial need. If you qualify for this loan, you will not be responsible for the interest while you’re in school and for six months after you graduate.
You can also take out a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, which does not depend on financial need. Interest on this loan will accrue while you’re in school and during the six-month grace period, though you will not be responsible for paying that interest until your repayment period begins. And you don’t have to start repaying subsidized or unsubsidized federal loans until you graduate or drop below half-time enrollment (and after the six-month grace period).
Currently, you can take out anywhere from $5,500 to $12,500 per year in federal loans as an undergraduate. The limit changes depending on whether you are a dependent and your year in school.
A parent can also take out a Direct PLUS Loan from the federal government to help you pay for school. They can borrow as much as your total cost of attendance, after any other financial aid you’ve gotten.
In order to qualify for a Direct PLUS Loan as a parent of a dependent undergrad, they will have to go through a credit check and must not have a problematic credit history. If parents request a deferment, they don’t necessarily have to start repaying their loans until six months after their child graduates or drops below part-time enrollment.
Adding Private Student Loans
If you weren’t able to get enough in federal aid, and your parents aren’t able to take out a loan on your behalf, you may be able to borrow additional loans from a private lender.
You can start learning what private student loans are available by inquiring with a variety of lenders. You may want to compare their interest rates and loan terms to make sure you’re finding the best loan fit for you. As you’re shopping around, keep in mind that a fixed interest rate will stay the same for the life of a loan, while a variable rate can change over time as market interest rates change.
Read the terms carefully to understand what you will owe and when payments will be due. If you don’t qualify on your own (possibly due to your credit score, income, or employment status), you can ask a parent or family friend with a good credit history to serve as a cosigner.
Recommended: Guide to Private Student Loans
Considering Student Loan Refinancing
If you take out student loans, refinancing them once you graduate can be a way to save money when it comes time to repay. Refinancing involves taking out a single new loan and using it to repay all your existing loans, which can include federal loans, private ones, or both. However, keep in mind that refinancing student loans with a private lender means forfeiting federal loan benefits like deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment plans.
A new refinanced loan comes with different terms and a different interest rate, which can be either fixed or variable. If you’re able to get a lower interest rate than your existing loans, that can save you money over time, depending on your new loan term.
Private lenders might take into account your credit history and income when determining your refinanced interest rate and loan terms.
Recommended: The Advantages of Refinancing Student Loans
Just because you didn’t get enough financial aid doesn’t mean you can’t afford to attend college. By applying for scholarships, taking on a part-time job, applying for loans, and looking into refinancing student loans after college, you can find a responsible path to achieving your dreams.
If it seems like a private student loan will help you cover your expenses, consider the options SoFi has to offer. You can apply online in minutes and easily add a cosigner, if needed. Plus, flexible loan repayment options like partial, deferred, or interest-only payments put a bit less strain on your budget upon graduation.
How can I increase my financial aid for college?
Contact your school’s financial aid office to request additional federal student loans and grants. You can also search for non-federal scholarships you may be eligible for via search engines like SoFi’s Scholarship Search Tool.
What income gets the most financial aid?
If you or your parents make less than $27,000, it will maximize your financial aid. However, income isn’t the only factor that goes into calculating your expected family contribution. Having other close family members in college at the same time will reduce the amount your family will have to contribute.
What GPA does FAFSA require?
Students must maintain a GPA of 2.0 on a 4.0 scale, or a C average, to remain eligible for federal student aid. You don’t have to pass all your classes, but you must pass enough to make “satisfactory academic progress” toward a degree.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.
CLICK HERE for more information.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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