February is a time to look ahead. Residents of cold areas of the country anxiously look ahead to spring, and hope that darn groundhog is right. Newly-engaged couples dream about a lifetime of love and togetherness. The nation looks ahead to the upcoming presidential elections. And high school seniors can’t wait to get on a real college campus in the fall.
Those are all great wishes, but sometimes we have to work a little bit to make our dreams come true. One thing that often stands between excited students and their college dreams is money. They have worked with their parents to apply to appropriate colleges, diligently completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and pored over the financial aid award packages. For some, disappointment is in the air as they realize that the amount of financial aid they have been awarded is not sufficient to cover the costs of attending a particular college. This is often referred to as the “gap amount.” If you are facing a gap between college costs and financial aid, here are a few steps you can take:
• Make sure there were no mistakes: If there is a significant difference in what you were anticipating and the actual award, take another look at your FAFSA and Student Aid Report (SAR) to make sure the information that’s listed accurately represents your financial situation. If you made an error, talk to the college admissions office to determine if it can be corrected. You might also notice that one college’s financial aid offer is significantly lower than other schools. Once again, it is worth talking to the financial aid office to make sure they have accurate information.
• Search for alternative sources of income: Look for additional ways your family might be able to come up with the needed funds. You can search for scholarships, access savings accounts, find additional employment opportunities, or ask for help from loved ones. Ask a financial advisor whether it makes sense to access a line-of-credit at a bank or to take out a home equity loan.
• Consider private student loans: If you have maxed out your eligibility for federal student loans and are still facing a gap, the next step is often to investigate private student loans. Just be aware that all private student loans are not created equal. Discover Student Loans, for example, offers zero fees, competitive interest rates, different types of loans to match the field of study, easy applications, and U.S.-based loan specialists to offer assistance. They even offer cash rewards for good grades, which can be helpful in paying for the costs of the next semester.
It is always fun to dream and look forward with hope, but look forward with reality, too. Take a moment to assess the financial aid offers you have received, analyze your financial needs and options, and make the college choice that is best for your family and your student.