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Don't Qualify for Financial Aid - But Can't Afford Full Tuition? A Look at Your Options

Jan 30, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Our financial aid system is supposed to make college accessible for everyone. Under our system, those who can pay full price do—and those who can’t always have access to grants, loans, and financial aid that put the price of tuition within reach. It sounds good on paper—but in practice, plenty of students fall through the cracks.

It’s not unusual for some students to be put in the “rich” category for financial aid purposes—even if the tuition bill is still too much for these students and their families to handle alone. If this has happened to you, here are a few things you can do.

Enroll in a less expensive college—and then transfer

Maybe your heart was set on an exclusive private school —and you got in, but your financial aid package was less than stellar.

If that’s the case, you can save significant money by enrolling in a less expensive community college or state school, and then transferring in time to earn your four-year degree from the more expensive school. This ensures you pay only one or two years
of tuition with the pricier school, and the rest of your college
career is more affordable. You still get the degree you wanted
from the school you wanted—you’ll just have to
navigate the transfer process to get it.

Woman Decision

With no or very little financial aid, you may have a more difficult time paying for college—but it’s not impossible.


Look into regional exchange programs

Some states offer exchange programs that will allow you to get the in-state rate for public colleges in partner states. If the college you want to go to is a public school and you’re getting slammed with out-of-state tuition costs, check to see if your state has a reciprocal in-state tuition agreement going on with that college.

Look into merit-based and sports-based scholarships

Your college may have already offered you all it can in regards to financial aid—and that may not be enough. However, it’s possible you can earn grants and scholarships that have nothing to do with how much money you or your family makes. Look into nonprofit organizations, religious organizations, creative groups, and nonprofits you’re already involved in—it’s possible one or more of them offers a scholarship. It’s also possible your parents’ employers—or employers of a relative—offer scholarships to family members of workers. And these scholarships and grants may have more to do with specific interests or backgrounds than grades or financial need.

Give it a year

You may not earn a lot of financial aid the first year. But some colleges allocate more of their merit-based aid to upperclassmen. If you can afford to, and you don’t see any other good options, you may want to consider attending the school for a year and seeing if your financial aid package improves the next year. True, tuition only goes up—but so might your financial aid, especially if you prove yourself in your first year. Before you accept admission, ask the financial aid officer about opportunities for additional aid after your Freshman year.

There are other options as well—including working while attending classes, taking out private loans, or attending a less expensive school. Working while attending classes is a good idea, whether you’re getting financial aid or not—but unless you have a very good job, it’s difficult to find a part-time position that allows you time to study and also pays off a hefty tuition bill.

Private student loans are an option for many—and private lenders generally loan based on credit scores, not financial need. And a less expensive school may be a smart choice—but even smarter if you can transfer in time to earn your four-year degree from the more highly regarded school. With no or very little financial aid, you may have a more difficult time paying for college—but it’s not impossible.


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