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What to Do When You Need More Money for College

Amy Baldwin, Ed.D.


Imagine this scene: Your student works hard to get into college and even earns a scholarship. Next, you get the bill for what the scholarship doesn’t cover. Do you panic? Or do you look for other ways to cover the bill?

First, be assured that you are not alone. Despite doing everything possible to reduce the costs of college, your student may still face taking out loans or using college savings to cover every expense. All of this can cause you to worry about what to do, not just this year, but the next few years as well. The good news is there are ways you and your student can find or earn more money to cover the expenses.

There are options.

The first financial aid offer your student receives is not the only opportunity they will have to cover expenses. With a little planning and some hustle, your student may find that they can earn money while they are enrolled.

What are the options?

The easiest way to make a plan to find more money is to think about it as two different options.

  1. What work can your student do at the institution?
  2. What additional aid is available?

What's in a financial aid name?

Emergency grant: One-time money that does not have to be paid back that may cover unexpected expenses that a student experiences.  

Grant: Money that does not have to be paid back. In some cases, a grant is a one-time award of financial aid. Some grants are automatically credited to a student’s account and others are given in the form of a check directly to the student.

Scholarship: Money that does not have to be paid back. Some scholarships are renewable if requirements are met. Some scholarships are automatically credited to a student’s account and others are given in the form of a check directly to the student.

Stipend: Money paid to a student who is training and not a regular employee. It may be paid out over time or in one lump sum.

Work-study: A federal program in which a student can earn money working part-time while in college. The student must complete the FAFSA and qualify for work-study funds. The school must participate in receiving work-study funds.

Work it out

One of the most obvious choices for students to earn more money is working. Colleges and universities employ students for both short-term and long-term jobs. Here are some of the jobs available to college students:

Resident Assistant

A resident assistant lives and works in a residence hall working with and handling issues for the students who live there. These positions are competitive—and limited—but can have great benefits. Many schools either pay students the equivalent of the cost of living and eating on campus or waive those costs for the student.

Work-study

Qualifying for Federal work-study money means that your student can get a job on campus. These positions are somewhat competitive and usually flexible in terms of schedule, but most schools try to offer enough jobs for students who qualify. The pay is usually minimum wage and there is a maximum number of hours (usually fewer than 20) a week a student can work.

Tutoring and peer coaching

More and more schools are employing fellow students to deliver academic and personal support. These are called “peer” programs that could include tutoring, coaching and mentoring. The pay is usually minimum wage, and there is often a maximum number of hours a week a student can work.  

Part-time

Don’t overlook the possibility that there may be a part-time position on campus that is not usually open to students. For example, your student’s school may have low-skilled jobs in maintenance, housekeeping and groundskeeping. These positions are much harder to obtain and there may be less flexible with scheduling. However, your student may be able to earn more than minimum wage or other benefits.

Gig work

People who need short-term work often find themselves scouring college campuses to hire students. Does someone need a babysitter or house sitter? Do they need to hire a few strong students to move furniture for the weekend? While these gigs may not be competitive, your student will be less likely to earn a steady income.

Grants, scholarships and stipends

In addition to finding a job, your student may also qualify for additional financial aid once they get to campus:

Foundation scholarships

These scholarships are provided by gifts to the university or college and are awarded after the student has enrolled and has completed at least one semester. They are usually competitive and require a minimum GPA.

Special educational opportunity awards

When there is a cost associated with a program such as study abroad, undergraduate research, or internship, most schools have ways in which students can earn money to participate. Whether they are called scholarships or stipends, they both provide money to help cover the expenses of participating in the program.

Departmental and special awards

These are usually given to students who show academic achievement in their major. Awards may be given for other accomplishments such as a research paper or creative work.

Emergency grants

These are awarded on a case-by-case basis for unexpected financial hardships and may have requirements that must be met first.

What can you do to support your student?

There are conversations and coaching you can do to help your student find and apply for these options.

  • Help them determine how much money they need each year. Costs increase and needs change. If your student wants to study abroad, for example, help them create a budget for that experience. The more they can anticipate changes in their expenses, the better they can plan to find additional money.
  • Coach them to create a Plan B for paying for college. Scholarships can be lost, and savings accounts can be depleted. Encourage them to create a plan for those sudden changes to their bottom lines.
  • Do some homework. Homework is not just for college classes. Your student can also research what their school offers and how to qualify. The financial aid office is a good place to start.
  • Encourage some work during college. Even if they only spend a few days each month house sitting, they will be making a meaningful contribution. Breaks between terms can also be good opportunities for students to earn a little cash for college.

While there are no guarantees that your student can earn another scholarship or land a sweet on-campus job that helps them cover their living expenses, their schools should have a variety of opportunities for them to choose from. At the very least, encourage them to actively seek them out.


When circumstances change

A job layoff or large unexpected medical bills can change your family’s ability to pay for college. If you find your family or financial circumstances change drastically, contact the financial aid office immediately. They will be able to help you figure out what help is available for them.

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    Amy Baldwin, Ed.D. is the Director of Student Transitions at the University of Central Arkansas and co-author of a number of books, including A High School Parent's Guide to College Success: 12 Essentials and The College Experience. Amy and her husband are parents of two college students.

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