Smart Savings Tips

6 Last-Minute Strategies to Pay for College

collegesavingsmonthBy now you have most likely settled into your semester at school. If you’re already worrying about the costs of next semester, here are six strategies to use, which are recommended by specializing in college admissions.

Contact your school’s financial aid office.
Call your school today to discuss your options with a financial aid officer who can lay out funding options or direct you to the school’s payment plan, if available.

“They want the student, they’re expecting the student, they have the deposit, they’re holding a dorm for them, so they have a huge incentive to work things out for the student,” says Donald Heller, provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of San Francisco.

Submit a student-aid application.
If you haven’t already, fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which is used by the federal government, states and schools to determine what kind of aid might be available to you. You should complete a FAFSA every year, as early in the year as possible to qualify for the most financial aid.

Since you’re submitting it close to the start of the fall classes, you may have missed out on certain grants, scholarships or need-based aid, but federal loan options are still available. The student aid award letter you receive from filing the FAFSA will detail what federal loans you may qualify for. The sooner you apply, the better the chances that you’ll receive any aid that’s left on the table. Let your school’s financial aid office know that you have submitted the FAFSA and keep in touch once your award letter arrives.

Appeal your financial aid offer.
If your family’s finances have taken a hit since you received a financial aid award, let your school know, since you could be eligible for more aid. Financial aid can be negotiable.

Find scholarships.
Look for scholarships with deadlines that haven’t passed, or ask the financial aid office if your school has scholarships that haven’t yet been awarded. Occasionally, a scholarship will remain open because an applicant has yet to meet the criteria, Heller says. You can find scholarships and deadlines at the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop scholarship finder.

Consider private student loans.
Federal subsidized and unsubsidized student loans come with borrower protections and income-driven repayment options that private loans don’t offer, so the federal options should be exhausted first.

Private loans usually require a co-signer and typically carry higher interest rates than federal subsidized loans, but the private-loan option may be necessary to close a funding gap. You can borrow private loans from banks, credit unions and online lenders. College admissions experts advise to borrow no more in student loans over the course of getting your degree than you anticipate making in your first year’s salary.

Plan long-term options

“Financial aid are presented as one-year deals, so students tend to think of them as one-year problems,” says Bart Grachan, interim associate dean for progress and completion at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York. “So if they have cobbled all kinds of resources — ‘I have this emergency funding, this local scholarship, grandma kicked in $2,000’ — they need to multiply out the next four years and ask themselves, is that sustainable?”

Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: anna@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski

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