What can you do if you don’t have enough money to pay for school? The answer is duct tape.
What? Duct tape has a lot of practical uses, such as reinforcing book bindings, patching holes in backpacks, removing lint and catching bugs.
But, what does duct tape have to do with paying for college? Duck brand duct tape sponsors a $10,000 scholarship for making a prom costume out of duct tape. Visit the stuckatprom.com website for more information.
If that particular scholarship doesn’t help you get out of your sticky situation, then look for scholarships at free scholarship search websites, such as Fastweb.com and the College Board’s Big Future. Just beware of scholarship scams, which charge a fee to apply for a scholarship.
Here are ten other options to help pay for school when you don't have enough financial aid.
1. Choose A Cheaper College
College costs vary by type of college. Often, an in-state public college will cost a quarter to a third of the cost of a private college, even with less financial aid.
Another option is one of the six dozen or so colleges with “no loans” financial aid policies. These colleges replace loans with grants in the financial aid package. These colleges include all Ivy League colleges, MIT, Stanford, Caltech, UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Amherst, Williams, Wellesley, Northwestern, University of Chicago, Swarthmore, Rice, UVA, Vanderbilt, Vassar and other selective colleges.
Community colleges are much less expensive. But if your goal is to obtain a bachelor’s degree, taking a detour through a community college may cause you to miss your destination. Only a fifth of students who start at a community college graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared with two-thirds of students who start at a 4-year college.
Enrolling part-time may reduce college costs by spreading them out over a longer period of time. But students must be enrolled at least half-time to qualify for student loans and the in-school deferment. Other forms of financial aid may be prorated based on enrollment status.
2. Complete The FAFSA
Yes, I realize that the whole point of this article is to give ideas for how to pay for school if you don't have enough financial aid. But this point still bears mentioning as some students assume that they won't qualify for much financial aid based on their household income or other reasons.
Based on these assumptions, some students fail to apply for financial aid by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), thinking that it would be a waste of time anyway. However, the FAFSA is a gateway to financial aid from not only the federal government, but also state governments and most colleges and universities.
Less than 200 mostly private colleges use a supplemental form called the CSS Profile for awarding their own financial aid funds. But most still use the FAFSA for federal and state aid. So even if you wouldn't qualify for enough government aid to pay for school completely, submitting the FAFSA could help you qualify for additional merit aid from your academic institution.
File the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after the October 1 start date. Students who file the FAFSA sooner qualify for more grant aid than students who wait to file the form. Some grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis until the money runs out. Other grants have early or preferred deadlines.
3. Appeal For More Financial Aid
If you need more money to pay for school because of special circumstances, contact the college financial aid office to ask how to appeal for more financial aid.
Special circumstances are financial circumstances that affect your ability to pay for college. They include changes in circumstances since the prior-prior year, such as job loss and pay cuts. (The FAFSA is based on two-year-old income information.)
They also include circumstances that differentiate the family from a typical family, such as high unreimbursed medical expenses, K-12 tuition for siblings, dependent care costs for a special needs child or elderly parent, and disability related expenses.
You can appeal for more financial aid even in the middle of the school year. Many colleges also have emergency aid funds available through the financial aid office.
4. Join The Military
Military student aid may be an option to pay for school if you wish to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Examples available from the federal government include ROTC scholarships and the G.I. Bill. Eligible students can receive a ROTC scholarship for one year before being required to commit to service.
There are also scholarships for servicemembers, veterans and their families from private organizations, such as AMVETS, the American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
5. Get A Job
Part-time jobs are available on and near college campuses. Some employers provide tuition assistance and student loan repayment assistance programs. (Up to $5,250 of this assistance per year is tax-free.)
Even if you already have a job, you might be able to work a second job in the evening or weekends. Also, consider asking your employer for a raise or switching to a job with better pay.
But, be careful about working too much while pursuing a college education. Students who work a full-time job are half as likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree as compared with students who work 12 hours or less per week.
6. Cut College Costs
Aside from choosing a college that charges less tuition and fees, students can also economize on other college costs. About half of the cost of a public college education is due to living expenses, such as room and board, textbooks, transportation and miscellaneous personal expenses.
Here are a few tips on ways to cut these costs:
7. Sell Your Stuff
8. Ask Friends And Family For Help
It’s better to beg than to borrow. Ask your friends and family to help you pay for school. Ask parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to give the gift of college for your birthday and holidays. (You can also sell the gifts they give you to get money to pay college bills.)
It doesn’t hurt to ask for help. The worst that can happen is they say no. Try asking them to cover something specific, such as textbooks or tuition. Crowdfunding for college might also be an option for students who have a compelling story and are asking for a small amount of money.
9. Get Help From The IRS
Get money from the IRS when you file your federal income tax return by claiming certain education tax benefits. The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) provides a partially-refundable tax credit worth up to $2,500 based on amounts paid for tuition and textbooks. It’s limited to four years. But then there’s the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit (LLTC) that's worth up to $2,000.
The student loan interest deduction provides a tax deduction for up to $2,500 in interest paid on federal student loans and most private student loans. It is an above-the-line exclusion from income, so you can claim it even if you don’t itemize.
Two-thirds of the states provide a state income tax deduction or tax credit based on contributions to the state’s 529 plan. Seven states allow the state income tax break for contributions to any state’s 529 plan. Most states allow the tax break even if you immediately withdraw the money.
In effect, this provides a discount on college costs based on your marginal tax rate. Four states limit the state income tax break to contributions net of distributions. In this case, you'll need to make the contributions and take the distributions in different years.
10. Borrow The Remainder
The least desirable option is to borrow the money, since student loans must be repaid, usually with interest. Before you borrow, ask the college bursar whether they offer a tuition installment plan. Tuition installment plans spread out the college bills into equal monthly payments over the academic year. Tuition installment plans don’t charge interest, but may charge a small up-front fee.
If you must borrow, borrow federal first. Federal student loans offer low fixed interest rates, don't require cosigners and have flexible repayment options. Federal student loans offer longer deferments and forbearances, income-driven repayment plans, and loan forgiveness and discharge options. You must file the FAFSA before you can receive a federal student or parent loan.
Private student loans and private parent loans are available from many lenders, including banks, credit unions and other financial institutions. Most students will need a parent or other relative to cosign the loans. Even if you can qualify without a cosigner, a creditworthy cosigner can help you qualify for a lower interest rate.
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Mark Kantrowitz is an expert on student financial aid, scholarships, 529 plans, and student loans. He has been quoted in more than 10,000 newspaper and magazine articles about college admissions and financial aid. Mark has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Reuters, U.S. News & World Report, MarketWatch, Money Magazine, Forbes, Newsweek, and Time. You can find his work on Student Aid Policy here.
Mark is the author of five bestselling books about scholarships and financial aid and holds seven patents. Mark serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Student Financial Aid, the editorial advisory board of Bottom Line/Personal, and is a member of the board of trustees of the Center for Excellence in Education. He previously served as a member of the board of directors of the National Scholarship Providers Association. Mark has two Bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and philosophy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Master’s degree in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).