Lost Eligibility? How to Pay for College Without Financial Aid

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How to Pay for College Without Financial Aid
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If you lost your financial aid, you may be wondering how to pay for school. Can you recover financial aid eligibility? Can you file a financial aid suspension appeal?

Although federal student aid is a lifeline for many, it’s unfortunately never guaranteed. After a financial aid suspension, you can still find ways to pay for school, including by relying on grants, scholarships and private student loans.

Here’s a primer on how to pay for college without financial aid you had anticipated receiving — specifically:

How federal financial aid eligibility works

The Department of Education has clear guidelines for federal student aid eligibility.

There are basic requirements, such as being a U.S. citizen (or an eligible noncitizen) and having a Social Security number. There are also continuing requirements:

If you don’t meet these guidelines, you’re at risk of losing financial aid eligibility. Some schools may give you an official warning or place you on financial aid probation.

We’ll use Mississippi State University as an example. MSU offers students a financial aid warning semester where they have a chance to finish in good standing, allowing them to keep their financial aid. If requirements aren’t met, they’ll be put on financial aid suspension. Your federal aid for that semester will be canceled, and you won’t be able to receive further aid until you meet satisfactory academic progress again.

If you lose your eligibility, you’re left with far fewer ways to pay for college and cover your educational costs.

How you could lose eligibility for other financial aid

Although the Department of Education is the primary source of financial aid for most students, it’s possible you’ve received — and lost — monetary support from other sources.

There are all sorts of ways you could lose your scholarship, for example, including:

  • Your one-time, year-long award isn’t renewable.
  • You fail to meet criteria to maintain the award throughout the school year.
  • Your updated FAFSA (and the resulting Expected Family Contribution) increases from the previous year, lowering your level of perceived financial need.
  • You apply funds toward ineligible expenses and are asked to return them.

So if you’re asking yourself, “I lost my financial aid. How do I pay for school?” you might be talking about anything from a private scholarship to a state grant. Fortunately, no matter the type of your forfeited award, there are ways to replace that funding with additional sources of support.

How to pay for college without financial aid from the federal government

If you’ve relied on grants and federal student loans to pay for college, losing your federal financial aid eligibility could put your schooling in jeopardy. You’ll need to look into other ways to pay for school — or consider a financial aid suspension appeal. Here are some of your options:

1. Address your eligibility
2. Consider filing a financial aid suspension appeal
3. Apply for grants and scholarships
4. Take out private student loans
5. Work your way through college
6. Ask for help

1. Address your eligibility

Depending on the reason you lost financial aid, you can first try to fix the problem. This could be relatively easy — as simple as correcting or filing a FAFSA — or it could be a more involved process, with a plan you’ll need months to complete.

For instance, you may lose your eligibility for specific funding if you switch majors, but you could regain it if you switch into an academic program that is covered. While this option is drastic, it may enable you to stay enrolled in school. If you lost your eligibility because of a drug conviction, you may regain it early by completing rehab or passing two random drug screenings.

If you lost your federal financial aid because you defaulted on your loan, you may regain eligibility by repaying your debt in full. Most won’t have this luxury, but it could be worth the upfront expense.

If you’ve had your federal financial aid eligibility revoked, sit down with someone in your school’s financial aid office to review your options. You might be able to get back on a path to eligibility.

2. Consider filing a financial aid suspension appeal

If it looks like you won’t be able to regain your financial aid eligibility right away, you could consider a financial aid suspension appeal.

A financial aid suspension appeal varies by school, but it generally requires students to make a formal appeal through the financial aid office.

At DePaul University in Chicago , for example, students who appeal financial aid suspension must provide a written appeal letter, create an action plan and meet with an academic advisor. As another example, students at the University of Texas at Austin must submit a personal statement, provide required documents and sign a financial aid academic plan.

Without financial aid eligibility, you won’t have access to loans or aid to pay for college costs. This can create a circular problem, in which you need eligibility to afford to take more courses but can’t regain eligibility without taking more courses.

The length of time it takes to regain eligibility depends on why you lost it. You’ll need to decide what to do about college in the meantime. Do you need to stop attending because you can’t afford it? Can you afford tuition if you go to school part-time? Once you know your educational costs, you can start looking into your options.

3. Apply for grants and scholarships

Before turning to other forms of debt, such as applying for private student loans, exhaust all your other financial aid options. You may be able to qualify for state or federal grants and scholarships, as well as ones from nonprofit organizations and private companies.

Unlike loans, which have to be repaid with interest, grants and scholarships don’t typically require repayment. In most cases, you never have to repay them. Plus, you can combine multiple grants and scholarships to pay for school, reducing how much you need to borrow.

Check out our guide to state grants for college and our guide to college scholarships to find opportunities.

4. Take out private student loans

If you lose financial aid eligibility, you might still be able to get private student loans to cover the costs. Private student loans can be a useful tool to cover the gap so you can complete your degree.

One big difference is that private loan companies require students to meet certain lending requirements. Most lenders will want to see a credit score in the mid-600s or higher to approve you for a private student loan. Many will also factor in your income and employment history.

However, college students aren’t known for having stellar credit and high incomes. Many of them have just entered adulthood and are not yet financially established, so they’ll have trouble qualifying.

If this is your situation, consider getting a private student loan with a cosigner who’s well-qualified for the loan and agrees to repay the debt if you default.

Consider the best private student loans for your situation:

Borrower Programs Other degrees Personal situation Lender feature
Part-time students Community college Associate degree Applying without a cosigner Credit unions
International students Trade school Non-degree programs Bad or no credit Cosigner release
Adults returning to school Nursing school Economic hardship forbearance
Graduate students Medical school Hybrid interest rate
Parents Law school
Dental school
Business school

5. Work your way through college

Of course, you can pay college costs out of pocket, though working your way through college is less feasible than ever. With today’s higher college costs, a low-paying job won’t cut it.

You’ll need to earn enough to at least cover your college tuition and costs — and likely your living costs, too. Make it your mission to hunt down a college job that pays more than minimum wage.

Covering your costs out of pocket will be more doable if you’re attending a low-cost college. If you can’t afford a full credit load, consider scaling back the number of credits you’re enrolled in each semester. If you’re paying for fewer credits, it could be easier to come up with the cash.

6. Ask for help

If your parents can afford to help you without sacrificing their own financial health, ask for help paying for college. In 2019, 14% of parents took out parent PLUS loans to help finance their child’s education. Remind them that they can deduct some of the interest on their taxes.

If this isn’t an option for your parents, you can discuss other forms of support, such as:

  • Living at home, rent-free, to help cut your costs.
  • Helping you network and search for a better-paying job.
  • Giving you a family loan to pay for college.
  • Agreeing to cosign a private student loan.

Dealing with a financial aid suspension, forfeiture

Unfortunately, the question of how to pay for college will likely never be an easy one to answer. If you’ve experienced a financial aid suspension or forfeiture, you’re left at the mercy of other available gift aid, private lenders, parents and others.

Now that you know how to pay for college without financial aid from the federal government, work toward regaining eligibility and take your time to understand the pros and cons of private student loans and other options.

Andrew Pentis, Rebecca Safier, Kat Tretina and Sage Singleton Evans contributed to this report.