Key takeaways

  • Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid could provide access to loans, grants or work-study funding.
  • Appealing your financial aid offer is another potential route to obtaining more funding.
  • Searching for last minute scholarships from private may also help secure more money for college costs.

Whether your financial situation has suddenly changed or you didn’t receive as many scholarships as you’d hoped for, there may be situations where you need money for college quickly. If you’re nearing the start of the semester and experiencing a shortfall, don’t panic; there are several places you can look for last-minute scholarships and funding.

6 last-minute ways to get money for college

Consider these last-minute ways to get money for college when you’re in a pinch and need more funding.

1. Fill out the FAFSA

If you haven’t yet, submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form determines your federal and state aid eligibility. It could open opportunities for federal loans, grants or work-study.

Some aid is given on a first-come, first-served basis, so you may not qualify for everything if you’re filing late. However, you can still submit through June 30 of the school year you need funding for — so if you need money for the spring semester, you can apply even if you’re already partway through the school year. Some states and schools set their own deadlines.

If your school uses the CSS Profile, consider filling it out to potentially receive institutional aid. Not every school uses the CSS Profile, which differs from the FAFSA, so check with your school first.

2. Contact your financial aid office

Your school’s financial aid office communicates your financial aid package. This office can be a great resource if you don’t know where to start looking for aid. It can help you navigate your aid options or tuition payment plans.

The financial aid office is also a great place to check for school-specific scholarship opportunities. The financial aid office typically redirects students to academic offices or departments to apply for specific grants or scholarships that may not be advertised on the school’s website.

3. Appeal your financial aid award offer

If your financial aid award offer is smaller than anticipated, consider filing an appeal letter. An appeal letter outlines any changes to your federal aid application or discrepancies that you think may have occurred when calculating your final award amount. If you’ve received a better financial aid package from a competing school of similar quality, include that info in your appeal letter.

While rare, getting more money for college is possible after filing a well-written and organized appeal. You should consider submitting an appeal if you need more money due to a death in the family, unexpected medical expenses, a divorce, a job loss or another financial upheaval.

But simply needing more financial aid likely won’t result in a successful appeal.

4. Apply for last-minute scholarships

Private organizations offer scholarships year-round, so it’s always worth searching for last-minute options. If you’re in high school, ask a guidance counselor what is available in your area. Local scholarships may not show up on national search engines.

You can search thousands of scholarships by date, category, grade level and award amount through a scholarship search engine. Stay organized with a spreadsheet as you apply, recording each due date, award amount and application status.

Scholarships can be available through almost any organization you’ve been affiliated with. Check for scholarships available through the following organizations:

  • Your employer.
  • A parent’s current or past employer.
  • Religious groups.
  • A school you are an alumnus of (eg., your elementary or even preschool).
  • A place you’ve volunteered.
  • A neighborhood association.
  • Niche interests like 4H, Rotary International, local community action groups and community theaters.

There’s a scholarship out there for almost any situation — even scholarships specifically for students who are left-handed or taller than a certain height.

5. Compare private student loan lenders

Though you can apply for federal student loans only once a year through the FAFSA, private student loans are available anytime. They can be another option if you need quick funding. It may take several weeks for your college to certify the loan amount and the lender to send over the funds, but the flip side is that you can often borrow up to the full cost of attendance.

Before applying, compare several lenders to see which offers you the best rates. Unlike federal loans, private lenders use your credit score and financial health to determine your interest rates. It’s worth prequalifying with a few lenders or adding a co-signer to your loan to ensure you get the cheapest option.

It’s also important to understand private student loans’ drawbacks before using this option. For instance, federal student loans offer income-driven repayment options when you’re struggling to make ends meet, but private loans do not. Additionally, when using federal student loans, you have access to forgiveness programs, which you will not have when borrowing money from a private lender.

6. Get a part-time job

If you have some time before your next semester starts, you may be able to make up the cash you need with a summer job.

During the school year, many colleges offer work-study options. These don’t always pay well but can provide valuable experience that may look more impressive on a resume than something off-campus.

Working as a residential advisor can offset the cost of room and board. An RA manages a college dorm’s activities and residents. While the position requires late nights occasionally, it works around your class schedules.

Working as an online tutor can also be a position with flexible hours to work around your schedule. Depending on your area, working as a server or bartender if you’re over 21 can be a lucrative after-school option.

Finally, picking up side hustles through gig-work apps like Rover, TaskRabbit, Uber and DoorDash can help you save extra money to pay your bills.

The bottom line

If your financial aid award package is smaller than you anticipated and you’re wondering how to get money for college, higher education can still be within reach. When in doubt, reach out to your financial aid office. Administrators there are experienced in helping students who need last-minute funding and can help you determine the best course of action.

You should also investigate scholarships from private organizations, as more scholarships may be available than you think. Yet another option is picking up a summer job or a few side hustles to help you bridge the gap. And don’t overlook appealing your financial aid award letter, which may help you obtain more money for college.