So, you’ve decided you’re ready to go to college — or go back to college — during the upcoming fall semester. That’s all good news, except that you really need to figure out how you’re going to pay for it all.
On this front, there’s both good news and bad news to consider. First, you are still able to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and qualify for federal student loans to pay for higher education. After all, the federal deadline for filling out the FAFSA is at the end of each academic year. This means the FAFSA deadline for the 2023-24 academic year is actually 11:59 p.m. CT on June 30, 2024.
However, many states and schools have deadlines much earlier than that, usually in April or May of the year with planned attendance. They may also have priority deadlines that fall around that time. With all this in mind, here are some tips that can help you get the funding you need to continue working toward your degree program this year.
Contact Your School’s Financial Aid Office
Higher education expert Cindy Chanin of Rainbow EDU Consulting & Tutoring says that many colleges and universities set their cut-off dates for filling out the FAFSA long before June 30th in the year of attendance, but that they may be willing to work with you if you contact your school’s financial aid office ASAP.
“If you speak with your college’s financial aid office as soon as possible and your FAFSA is submitted, then you may have a shot,” she said.
While some federal financial aid options, including federal grants, are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis, this isn’t the case with federal student loans. This means you still might be able to access federal loans for school if you fill out the FAFSA now and are able to expedite the process. It’s even possible to get federal student loan funding applied retroactively if you meet certain requirements and find a way to fund college upfront.
Your school could also have other tricks up their sleeve to help you get back in the classroom. For example, former college admissions advisor Denard Jones, who works at Empowerly, says that university financial aid offices may have additional funding like grants and scholarships at their disposal.
“Financial aid offices and admissions reps may also help you find other funding sources to make up gaps in the cost of attendance,” said Jones.
Consider Private Student Loans
If getting federal student loans lined up seems like a struggle, Chanin points out that private student loans do not have any sort of deadline. While there are many private student loan providers offering funding these days, some of the most popular companies to check out include College Ave Student Loans, Earnest, and SoFi.
However, it’s worth noting that student loans from private companies often require a co-signer (unlike federal student loans), and they can cost considerably more than federal student loans over the long run.
Also be aware that private student loans are offered without the same government protections as federal student loans, including the ability to qualify for deferment or forbearance. Private student loans are also offered without any of the money-saving payment plans and forgiveness programs you can get with federal student loans, including income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
Look For Scholarships And Other Funding
Chanin also suggests searching for last-minute scholarships that may be available, which you can do with scholarship search engines like Fastweb and Scholarships.com.
“Alternatively, there may be scholarship options locally, so check with community organizations such as religious institutions and local businesses,” she said. You might even learn about scholarships that haven’t been tapped out yet by calling your school’s financial aid office and inquiring.
College consultant Milton Straham III of Straham Consulting adds that you shouldn’t limit yourself to just a few applications when it comes to securing scholarship money. Instead, your goal should be casting a wide net and applying to as many scholarships as possible.
“Look for both national and local scholarships, as the latter may have fewer applicants and increase your chances of success,” said Straham. “Take the time to carefully read the requirements for each scholarship and tailor your application to highlight your strengths and achievements.”
Straham also recommends exploring all potential resources and networks available to you. This can include community organizations, professional associations, or local businesses that offer scholarships or grants.
“Reach out to your high school guidance counselor, teachers, or mentors who may have information or connections to funding opportunities,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help and explore every possible avenue.”
The Bottom Line
It’s not too late to get student loans for the 2023-24 academic year, but you may be limited when it comes to the type of funding you can access right away. If your school’s FAFSA cut-off has already passed but you still need loans, you can always turn to private companies that offer student loans with fixed or variable interest rates and varying repayment terms.
You can also look for other ways to pay for college, including last-minute scholarships or loans from family or friends. Straham also says that, in some scenarios, it makes sense to consider getting a summer job or taking on part-time work during the year to save money for your education. After all, working and saving that money can help cover various expenses, such as textbooks, supplies, or even a portion of your tuition.
You can also look into work-study programs and part-time jobs on campus, he said. The fact is, many colleges and universities offer work-study programs where students can work part-time on campus to earn money that directly supports their education. Straham says that these programs provide valuable work experience and help offset some of your expenses.
That said, you’ll need to be diligent in managing your finances and prioritize saving as much as possible if you go this route.
“It may require some sacrifice and discipline, but the financial stability it provides can make a significant difference,” said Straham.