5 Urgent Steps to Take If You Go Broke During College

can't pay for college

Running out of money in the middle of the semester sounds like a nightmare, right?

In a shocking report, Edvisors found that 64 percent of students surveyed went broke before the end of a semester at some point during their college careers.

More than half of respondents cited unanticipated expenses as their main source of trouble, and 42 percent said their financial circumstances changed.

Whatever the reason, you’ll need to act fast in this situation. If you suddenly can’t pay for college, these five steps could help you get back on your feet.

1. Speak with your financial aid office

If you can’t pay for college or living costs mid-semester, head straight to your financial aid office.

“The college’s financial aid administrator can help you identify additional sources of funding,” said Mark Kantrowitz, vice president of strategy at Cappex. “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.”

Even 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.

2. Find a high-paying part-time job

If your bank account is running low, your next step is 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 or pay for books.

Academic tutors, for instance, can make upwards of $17 per hour. If you cover material for an admissions test like the SAT, you could make $20 or more per hour.

Anyone with computer programming skills can 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.

“I got a position on campus where the workload was light and I could study while I worked,” said Phil Risher, founder of the Young Adult Survival Guide. “I would recommend setting up a spending budget for each week or month so you don’t run out again.”

Once you get a job, create a spending plan so you can track your expenses and stay out of the red.

3. Apply to outside scholarships

It’s not too late to apply for scholarships if you’re already in college.

Student Loan Hero, for instance, awards $1,000 scholarships every semester to students 18 years and older. This semester, applicants submitted essays about financial challenges they’ve experienced, their plans for the scholarship money, and how they’d manage money in the future.

It’s easy to locate opportunities across the country with scholarship search engines. You can also speak with your financial aid office about local opportunities.

Some scholarships require an essay or recommendation, while others let you apply with just a few pieces of basic information. By casting a wide net, you could earn free money that helps you pay for college.

4. Sell back your textbooks (and whatever else)

Need money now? Consider selling some of your stuff online. Although you might not have a ton of things to sell, you could at least get some money back on your old textbooks.

College bookstores will often buy them back, or you could sell them on sites like TextbookRush or Chegg.

If you’re looking to clean out your closet, you could even sell your used clothes online. It’s easy to get started on sites like eBay, VarageSale, and ThredUP.

If your financial situation has hit rock bottom, selling things online is an easy way to make fast cash.

5. Consider taking out a private student loan

If you have big college expenses you can’t afford, consider taking out a private student loan. You might need a co-signer if you don’t have your own income or credit history. With a co-signer, you could take out what you need to cover the remaining costs.

Borrow only what you need and no more. If you take on too much debt, you could be paying off your student loans for years to come. Plus, you’ll end up paying a lot more than you borrow thanks to compound interest.

Although a private student loan is necessary in some cases, proceed with caution. Private student loans can come with high interest rates, and you might not have the same flexible repayment options as you would 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.

If you can’t pay for college, take control of your personal finances

As the study from Edvisors revealed, a majority of students ran into financial hardship due to “unanticipated expenses.” To protect your budget, identify all the costs of college, including tuition, books, food, housing, and social activities. Then, use a spreadsheet or budgeting app to track your spending.

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

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