Most states, colleges and charities award their scholarships by late March. But even in the late spring and early summer, there are steps students can take to raise thousands in quick college cash by the fall, say college financial aid officers.
1. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It's best to fill out the federal application each January, even though that is eight months before the start of the academic year. But the government accepts FAFSAs throughout the summer and the entire academic year. So any citizen who is about to go to college, or is currently in college, can file a FAFSA that will automatically qualify him or her for a low-cost student loan of at least $5,500. (Adult upperclassmen can borrow as much as $12,500 a year through the federal Stafford loan program.) If the financial information on the FAFSA shows the student has a low income, the federal government will send grants to the student's college to pay down tuition and other bills. Students with low incomes can qualify for as much as $5,550 in Pell Grants. Low-income upperclassmen with good grades in tough subjects like math or science can get an extra $4,000 in federal "SMART" grants.
2. Apply to late-deadline scholarship contests. A few dozen charities and nonprofits hold open their scholarship contests for procrastinators. Some of these competitions are more fun than the standard essay contests. And a few offer comparatively good odds.
[Search a list of late-deadline scholarships.]
3. Throw yourself at the mercy of your college financial aid office. Late applicants "do usually miss out on the best chances" for school scholarships, says Becky Hejduk, a senior financial aid counselor at Texas A&M University-Texarkana. But, she adds, "occasionally funds open later." So it pays to at least ask your college's aid office for help.
4. Consider an appeal. If you have already filed a FAFSA and other college aid applications, but still don't have enough aid to afford college, appeal to your college for a "professional judgment review." College financial aid officers can increase your aid if you can prove that your financial circumstances have changed since you filed your FAFSA, or that the FAFSA doesn't take into account your unusual expenses (such as, perhaps, medical expenses, or the care of a relative).
5. Cut costs. A penny saved is a penny of financial aid you don't have to raise. Selling a car raises cash and eliminates big insurance bills. Sharon Hassan, director of financial aid at Goucher College, suggests considering cheaper living options, such as living at home.
6. Look for work. Even during a down economy, motivated students can find or create summer jobs. And while colleges typically award their scholarships early, they often have campus job openings throughout the year. Working just 12 hours a week can typically raise about $100 a week . Be careful, though. Studies show that undergraduates who work more than 20 hours a week during school get lower grades and are more likely to drop out.
7. Ask friends and relatives for help. You never know who might be willing to donate.
8. Check your taxes. Couples who earn less than $160,000 can get as much as $2,500 back on their taxes for tuition paid in 2009 and 2010. Several other tax benefits, such as deductions for tuition and student loan interest, can ease the pain of college costs as well.
9. Ask your college about temporary emergency loans. More colleges are offering these because of the recent economic troubles. Warning: college emergency loans are typically designed just to help students over short bumps. They are typically small and short-term. In addition, colleges often require students to provide references or proof that there's an unexpected emergency, not just a cable bill that's past due.
10. Ask your college about payment plans. While these don't reduce costs or raise cash—in fact, many schools charge $50 for the ability to pay in installments—they do at least give students extra time to raise money. For example, instead of requiring the full cost up front, many colleges allow students to make monthly payments.
11. Start applying for next year's aid. If it is too late for aid for the current or coming semester, start filling out the applications now for the semester after next. At the very least, start a calendar so that you don't miss future deadlines and have to go through this again next year, Hassan advises.
Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of America's Best Colleges.