Sometimes winter days feel like you are living in a cold, cruel world – especially if you are a high school senior who has just gotten your financial aid award package from a favored college. You spent the summer working hard on your college application forms, collaborated closely with your parents on filing the FAFSA, and somewhere along the way you got your heart set on attending one particular college.
Maybe you fell in love with it during a trip you took there, or it might have a particular field of study that appeals to you. Or maybe it’s just because some of your friends are going there, and you are looking forward to continuing the fun. Now it suddenly looks as if all of those dreams will not come true because you don’t qualify for enough financial aid to cover the full cost of attendance.
So what should you do now? Well, if the offer is substantially different than those you received from other colleges you can contact the financial aid office directly and appeal the decision. It is possible that they might have made a mistake in the rush to send out letters to the entire potential freshman class, or they could have accidentally overlooked something in your FAFSA or CSS Profile information.
The financial information you provided was based on your tax returns from 2018, so it is also possible that something could have changed in your financial situation since then. Your parents might have divorced, you may have been sick, there could have been a death in the family, or a natural disaster might have occurred that has severely impacted your family’s financial situation. If this is the case, pull together plenty of documentation and send it directly to the financial aid office at the particular college. If the college is nearby, it might even be helpful to set up an appointment so you can discuss your situation one-on-one on a call or email.
In spite of your best efforts, the college might still say that there is nothing else that can be done on their end, but here are some things you can do that might help fill the gap between financial aid and college costs:
• Calculate the exact shortage: Take some time putting together a realistic budget of what it would actually cost you to attend this particular college. Look at all the costs outside of tuition such as transportation, living expenses, and out-of-pocket costs to see if there is any way you can save money. Maybe you do have the money if you can cut your spending a little.
• Look for more money: If the difference is not that much, look for other ways to earn money. Make sure you have applied for every possible scholarship, try to sell some things on line, or get extra hours at your job. Perhaps your parents, grandparents or other relatives would be willing to work out a small loan arrangement with you that you can pay back after college.
• Consider private student loans: The financial aid award letter will usually indicate the maximum amount of federal student loans you can receive, so it might be time to look at private student loans if there is still a substantial gap. Although federal student loans are the same for everyone, be aware that private student loans can be different from every lender. You need to study the terms closely to be sure you make the best choice. Be careful about taking on more debt during college than you will reasonably be able to repay after graduation.
If all else fails, you might have to rethink your college plans completely. There are several options here which could work for you as well. You may want to take a gap year after high school and spend it working full-time so you can earn a good amount of cash. You could start out at a community college and then transfer to the college you initially wanted to attend. Or you could simply attend a different college altogether that has made a financial aid offer which falls within your financial constraints.