What to Do If You Run Out of Financial Aid?

Ana-Marcela Lopez

Of all the nightmares that might wake you in the middle of the night, the prospect of running out of financial aid might be the scariest. With rising tuition costs and inadequate financial aid, I found myself in this very nightmare my junior year. But with the help of my school’s financial aid office, I was able to find the necessary funds. Should you ever find yourself in this predicament, there are plenty of options that will keep you in the classroom with a roof over your head. 

Time is money. Don’t wait until you get an insufficient funds notice to talk to your financial aid advisor. It takes time to find, secure, and receive financial aid, so being proactive will save you more headaches and reduce any interference with your studies. As soon as you know you will run out of financial aid, schedule an appointment with your financial aid advisor to discuss your options. Depending on your institution’s financial structure, you might have several options available to you. Some such options include: 

  • A payment plan: Depending on the nature of your institution, you might be able to set up a payment plan to pay the remainder of your balance in monthly installments rather than one lump sum. This option gives you some flexibility and time to secure more financial aid or a part time job. 
  • Grants and scholarships: Grants and scholarships are essentially free money, so apply for as many as you can. Scour databases for quick and easy applications that you can submit immediately. Local and state scholarships may be less competitive than national ones, but you should try to apply to as many as possible! 
  • Loans: Although taking out more loans might be the last thing you want to do, it might be necessary.
    • Federal: As a dependent student, you can seek additional financial assistance with the help of your parents or guardian. They can apply for a Direct PLUS Loan to cover whatever remaining costs there are after the aid you have already received. Should they be denied the loan, you still might be eligible for an unsubsidized loan of up to $4,000. Keep in might that you may have to adjust your FAFSA in order to determine new eligibility.
    • Private: Federal loans are often a better option, as they come with lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans than most private ones. If you still need some extra cash, a private loan just might be your solution. Exercise caution and be judicious in your choice of lender. Compare interest rates, repayment options, fees, and credit requirements to make a choice that best suits you. 
  • Part-time work: Your studies should always be your number-one priority, but if your schedule allows, a part-time job can help you cover your costs. Consider work-study as an option; not only does your work directly help pay for your tuition, but it also takes place close to campus. If no positions are available, explore off-campus options. If you find something that aligns with your studies, great! If not, a part-time job will still be beneficial. I worked at a restaurant near my university on the weekends. While not relevant to my studies, I used the money for college-related expenses and learned valuable time-management and communication skills that I still use today.  
  • Reassess your budget: College is a time for frugality to be sure, but ramen noodles are not a balanced diet. That being said, a tighter budget can make your dollars stretch further and prevent any financial fiascos in the future. Consider how you can work with your budget to make wise sacrifices while still keeping to healthy and financially supported.

Every student is different, and some options might not be feasible with your unique circumstances. Should any doubts arise, your financial aid advisor will be your best ally as they help you find the path that will work best for you. I can tell you firsthand how stressful it can be to run out of financial aid, but I found that there were actually so many resources at my disposal. The financial aid office at my school was instrumental in helping me find the aid I needed to continue my education. 

More Helpful Guides:

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When Do I Need to Complete the FAFSA To Meet College Deadlines?

How to Calculate and Compare College Net Prices

Three Difficult Conversations to Have About Affording College

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