College Financial Aid Tips
College Students: Get Your Finances Square Next Semester
For many college students, winter break is a much anticipated time to relax after the hours spent bent over books and keyboards during finals. Whether the start of the next semester is keenly anticipated or dreaded, one common stressor is certain: A tuition bill will arrive soon.
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The deadline for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) is long past and students have received their aid allotments, but it's not the end of the road for those who need more financial assistance for the second half of the school year. Students who have experienced hardships since the application was turned in (an illness or the loss of a job, for example) or simply believe they will be unable to continue without additional help should consider writing a letter of appeal to the school's financial aid office. The University of Northwestern Ohio has prepared a sample letter that some students may find helpful. There is no guarantee that additional aid will be granted, but a well-crafted appeal letter backed by genuine need and a desire for academic success may help make ends meet.
Applying for additional scholarships is another option, and online scholarship search engines like the one at CollegeBoard.org are helpful. Spring semester scholarships are rare and often very competitive, and some are restricted to students who are returning to school after a leave of absence or transferring from another college or university. But checking directly with the aid office (both online and in person) is the surest way to find spring semester scholarship opportunities because they're often specific to the school or region. Researching local businesses and community organizations to learn if they offer financial aid may uncover possibilities that scholarship search engines or the financial aid office overlooked.
If appeals don't yield results and new scholarship prospects fizzle, it may be time to apply for a job. Recipients of work-study awards have a leg up because work-study employers pay only half the student's wages (the federal government pays the rest as part of the financial aid package). Working students need a job that's flexible in order to maintain good grades, and work-study employers understand the needs of students. Per diem jobs also generate income while leaving time to study, but the work likely won't be steady. Catering jobs, for example, fit the bill because weekend and evening events rarely overlap with class schedules and it's possible to turn down gigs during midterms and finals while preserving a relationship with the employer.
Signing on as a test subject for research projects also pays. On-campus psychology and economics departments often compensate students who participate in short studies as do private companies who need participants for research and clinical trials. Covance, a drug development company, offers thousands of dollars to volunteers who meet certain criteria, but with so many names in its database, odds of being chosen are small.
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Even students with jobs and/or a generous financial aid package may want additional ways to pad the college wallet. Upromise.com is an affiliate shopping network that rewards users for shopping online using links on the site. Someone planning to buy a new computer at BestBuy.com, say, can go to Upromise, click on the Best Buy link, and receive five percent cash back to be used for educational purposes, such as paying down student loans or buying textbooks. Upromise also offers up to eight percent cash back when dining out at participating restaurants. Users can even ask friends and family to sign up and link the earnings back to their account to help defray school expenses. The holidays present a chance to earn lots of cash back from gift buying, and throughout the year the slow but steady stream of earnings will add up.
Finally, students who have already begun to accumulate debt might benefit from looking at Cheapism's post on free and easy ways to manage and track loans. Other college-related articles on our site reveal how to save on textbooks and dorm room decorations and discuss where the best student discounts can be found.