Skip to Main Content

What to do if you didn’t get enough financial aid

Student studies with a calculator at her desk
gahsoon/Getty Images
Bankrate Logo

Why you can trust Bankrate

While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for .

Even after putting your best foot forward and filling out the FAFSA early, your financial aid package may come up short. Some grants and scholarships are first come, first served, while others are limited to students who have exceptional financial need. Whatever the case may be, if you don’t receive enough grants and scholarships from your school to cover the cost of attendance, don’t fret; you still have options to make your education more affordable.

How to get more financial aid money

When you receive your final financial aid package from your school, you’ll see which major grants or scholarships you’re eligible for. If those aren’t enough to cover your expenses, there are ways to get more financial aid.

Get a part-time job

Many students choose to pursue a part-time job in school to help offset costs. In many college towns, students may find night and weekend employment at restaurants, bookstores, libraries and other companies that understand the unique scheduling needs of a full-time student.

If you demonstrate financial need, you may also qualify for work-study, which is a type of federal aid that pairs students with part-time job opportunities affiliated with the college. You’ll need to indicate that you’re interested in work-study when you fill out the FAFSA, and you’ll see whether you’re eligible when you receive your financial aid award letter. If you’d like to accept a work-study award, it’s best to do so early, as opportunities are limited.

Ask about payment plans

In some cases, your financial aid office may be willing to negotiate a payment plan with you if you can’t afford to pay your tuition upfront. This could be a particularly good option paired with a part-time job — that way, you’ll be able to earn money as you go and put it toward tuition payments every month.

Apply for private scholarships

Private scholarships are a key way to supplement aid you receive from your school. Use a scholarship search engine to find scholarships geared toward your particular interests, hobbies or future career, and apply for as many as you can.

You can also call your school’s financial aid office to see if there are department-specific awards that have been left out of your financial aid award letter. The sooner you ask and apply, the better.

Accept federal student loans

Your financial aid letter will outline which federal student loans you qualify for and how much you’re able to take out for that academic year. While not ideal, taking out federal student loans can significantly decrease your out-of-pocket costs. If you’d like to go this route, you can speak with your financial aid office to ensure that you’ve elected to borrow the maximum amount that you’re offered, which will vary based on your year in school, your school’s total cost of attendance and your financial need.

You should never borrow more than you actually need, since you’ll have to pay back everything with interest. If possible, wait to take out loans until you’ve exhausted other possibilities for aid.

Apply for private student loans

After maximizing federal, state and institutional aid, private student loans can help cover the remainder of your college education. Private student loans don’t come with the benefits of federal loans, like income-based repayment plans and no credit checks, but they’re useful for filling in small gaps. If you’re an undergraduate student, you’ll likely need to apply with a co-signer.

How to ask for more financial aid

If your financial situation has changed since filling out the FAFSA, you can send an appeal to the financial aid office at your school asking for more aid. Things like layoffs, a death in the family or a medical emergency are all grounds for an appeal letter.

All colleges have a different appeal process, but be prepared to provide documentation and references from people who can verify the situation. Your letter should clearly describe details about the extenuating circumstances, including dates when you were affected how the situation affects your family’s finances. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to have a successful appeal.

Written by
Hanneh Bareham
Student loans reporter
Hanneh Bareham specializes in everything related to student loans and helping you finance your next educational endeavor. She aims to help others reach their collegiate and financial goals through making student loans easier to understand.
Edited by
Student loans editor