Opening that acceptance letter from your dream school was one of the most exciting moments of your life. YOU. GOT IN. No celebratory cake or online video can do justice to that amazing feeling. And then spring rolls around and the financial aid office gets in touch.
And you can’t afford it. You can’t pay for your dream school.
What do you do now?
Don’t have a nervous breakdown. There are things you can do.
When You Can’t Pay for Your Dream School…
Appeal to Financial Aid
The first package you receive from your college’s financial aid office doesn’t have to be the definitive package. You can appeal to your financial aid advisor for a review of the offer if you feel the information doesn’t match what you should be getting. If your family has had any significant changes, that can also be brought up as well (for example, if a parent has lost a job, you can submit their letter of termination and have your package re-evaluated).
You can also ask to meet directly with your financial aid officer to discuss your package and talk about how it might change each year. If you have younger siblings that will be entering college the next year, then you will get more money from financial aid that year, for example.
But do know that the financial aid you are awarded from the school has a lot to do with where you fall in the admissions class. Top students are often awarded more money from the school, and online groups where you compare your awards to other students are largely unhelpful. We suggest staying away from those groups that will only stress you out, and speak directly to financial aid about any changes you can make to earn more awarded money.
Take a Gap Year
If you know that things will be changing for your family in the coming year, such as one of your parents retiring or a sibling also entering college, then you can take a gap year and earn some money while you wait for those financial aid benefits to kick in. This is an excellent choice if you also want to save up to try to pay for some of your college yourself, and you can augment the time with a few classes at your community college.
In the same spirit, taking a semester abroad in a country where college tuition is cheaper is also a great way to “gain” more money for your dream school. Any state awarded money or financial aid that you are getting will roll over to the semester that you are back in the US, meaning more money to cover that semester’s tuition.
Cut Things Out
The budget you receive from your school about the cost of tuition typically includes far more than just tuition. It also includes room and board, a meal plan, books, and more. If living off-campus or commuting to school is an option for you, then consider this to cut costs. Cooking meals at home rather than eating on campus is a great way to save money as well, and renting books or buying secondhand books for classes will also save money each semester.
Some colleges require their freshmen class to live on campus and have a meal plan, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to do it every year. Make sure you’re looking at the overall price of all 4 years you will spend there, and see how you can save money overall – not just year to year.
Depending on how far away your dream college is, you also need to consider how often you’ll be traveling home. If your yearly costs will include travel, you might have to sacrifice how often you return home if you want to go to this particular school.
Scholarships, Scholarships, Scholarships
Even before your financial aid package comes in the mail, you should be applying for every scholarship opportunity you can. Millions of dollars go unused each year because no one applied for a particular scholarship! Little scholarships add up and can mean the difference of if you go to your dream school or not. You can also contact the department head of your intended major to ask about scholarships given to upperclassmen by the school in specific fields.
Keep An Open Mind
If financial aid and scholarships aren’t enough, then consider larger organizations that can pay for your full tuition. The military, for example, can supply full tuition costs for certain schools and majors. While it might not be your ideal plan to get money for college, it will also set you up for a career if you major in medicine or IT, for example. Americorps also supplies a large sum of tuition money after service.
You might also have to consider transferring to your dream school after 2 years at a community college to make your dream come true. There is nothing wrong with this plan and will save your family money in the long run. If all else fails, always have a plan B and a plan C school, which you might fall in love with just the same.
Need Help Getting Into Your Dream School?
Weaving through the ins and outs of financial aid, college admission, and career planning can be a hassle. That’s why it’s important to have an expert on your side. Message us today for a free consultation with our college and career consultant.