6 Urgent Steps to Take If You Go Broke During College

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If you find yourself unable to pay for next semester’s tuition or living expenses, you might need some immediate financial assistance. Fortunately, most colleges will offer help if you tell them, “I can’t afford college right now.”

If this happens, take a deep breath and remember: You’re not alone. Unexpected expenses or a change in a family’s financial situation are not uncommon occurrences.

Whatever the reason, if you can’t afford college, you’ll need to act fast. These six steps may help you in a financial emergency:

6 steps to take if you can’t afford college

1. Speak with your financial aid office
2. Find emergency services for students
3. Sell back your textbooks (and whatever else you can)
4. Find a high-paying part-time job
5. Apply for outside scholarships
6. Consider borrowing a private student loan
● Plus: Final thoughts on finding ways to afford college

Speak with your financial aid office

If you realize halfway through the year that you won’t have enough funds for the following semester, head straight to your financial aid office. Assuming you have time on your side, there may be multiple ways to come up with the tuition in time.

“The college’s financial aid administrator can help you identify additional sources of funding,” said Mark Kantrowitz, vice president and publisher of Savingforcollege.com. “Some colleges even have emergency loan funds to help students who run into unanticipated problems.”

Plus, you might be able to negotiate for more financial aid. “If you have special circumstances that affect your ability to pay for college, appeal to the college financial aid office for a professional judgment review,” said Kantrowitz. “Provide documentation of changes in your financial circumstances.”

If it’s too late to adjust your financial aid package, the financial aid office can give you tips for filing next year’s FAFSA. By including the right information on your FAFSA, you could qualify for more federal grants or work-study funds.

At the very least, a financial aid officer can point you in the right direction for scholarships or job opportunities on campus.

Find emergency services for students

Students who go without basic meals or don’t have stable housing may struggle to keep up with classes and even be at risk of dropping out of college. It can be very hard to study and retain information when your stomach is empty or you are worried about your living situation.

Across college campuses, some students are finding themselves hungry and even homeless during their college years, according to a report by the Hope Center at Temple University.

It surveyed nearly 167,000 students from two-year and four-year institutions in 2019, and found that 39% had been food insecure in the prior 30 days. In the past year, 46% had experienced housing insecurity and 17% had been homeless.

If you need food or shelter, reach out immediately for help. Contact your student life office or speak to a trusted faculty advisor. If you live in on-campus housing, there may be staffed senior residential assistants or advisors to help you in an emergency, so don’t be embarrassed to talk to them about your situation.

Food pantries for students may exist on campus. For example, according to the State University of New York (SUNY), all 64 of New York’s public universities like City College of New York, for example, offer food pantries for hungry students to use, no questions asked.

In addition, don’t forget to check out local charitable resources that can help you find emergency housing, food banks and other social services.

Sell back your textbooks (and whatever else)

If you need money fast, you could consider selling your things online. College bookstores will usually buy back textbooks, or you could set up shop on sites like Chegg and TextbookRush.

Take a look inside your closet — you could also sell your used clothes online. It’s relatively easy to get started on sites like eBay and ThredUP.

If your financial situation has hit rock bottom, selling things may be an easy way to make fast cash — in a matter of a few hours to a few weeks, depending on your situation.

Find a high-paying, part-time job

If your bank account is simply running low and you’re getting nervous, your next step may be to search for a part-time job. Although some jobs pay next to nothing, it’s possible to find high-paying, part-time jobs for college students. These positions probably won’t make much of a dent in tuition, but they could help cover your living expenses, like food, or pay for textbooks.

Academic tutors, for instance, can make upward of $20-$40 per hour, depending on the situation and your location. If you cover material for an admissions test like the SAT, you could make closer to $50 or $100 an hour.

It may also be possible to find an online job to offset the costs of college. Think about your skill set and look for work with a paycheck that’s worth your while.

Though earning money is important, make sure you can balance work with studying, and look into on-campus jobs (even if you don’t qualify for work-study programs) that don’t take you too far from your studies. Once you get a job, create a spending plan so you can track your expenses and stay out of the red.

Apply for outside scholarships

It’s never too late to apply for scholarships, even if you’re already in college.

Student Loan Hero, for instance, awards two $5,000 and four $2,000 scholarships every semester to students 18 years and older.

In order to qualify, applicants are asked to submit essays about the financial challenges they’ve experienced growing up, and how these challenges shaped their goals and career inspirations.

It’s also simple to locate scholarship opportunities across the country using specific search engines. Some scholarships require an essay or recommendation, while others let you apply with just a few pieces of basic information.

Reach out to your school’s financial aid office if you have questions about applying for outside scholarships. Most financial aid officers will be happy to help enrolled students.

By casting a wide net, you could earn money that helps you pay for college.

Consider borrowing a private student loan

If you have big college expenses that you can’t afford, consider taking out a private student loan. You might need a cosigner if you don’t have your own income or credit history, so be prepared to ask a family member, and borrow only what you need and no more.

Although a private student loan is necessary in some cases, proceed with caution. It’s important to remember that private student loans could come with high interest rates and these loans probably don’t offer flexible repayment options as compared with federal student loans. Private lenders, for instance, rarely offer income-driven repayment plans.

Before signing on the dotted line, read over the terms of the loan so you understand what you’re getting into. And make sure to shop around with reputable lenders to find the lowest rate.

Final thoughts on finding ways to afford college

There are student services, loan providers and scholarships all designed to help you cover the costs of your education and daily living expenses.

If running out of money in the middle of the semester is a concern, take control of your personal finances ahead of time. To protect your budget, identify all the costs of college, including tuition, books, food, housing and even social activities. Then, use a spreadsheet or budgeting app to track your spending.

Instead of being caught unaware, figure out exactly how much money you’ll need to get through each semester. And if your financial circumstances change, take one or more of these steps to help you get back on budget.

Maya Dollarhide contributed to this report.

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