How to Fill the Financial Aid Gap

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Your college bill shows what you’re responsible for paying after your financial aid has been applied to your account. The bill includes tuition and fees, as well as housing and meal plan if you’re living on campus. There are other costs you should consider in addition to the costs on your tuition fee bill. Often called indirect expenses, these include things the college doesn’t bill you for directly, like textbooks, school supplies, transportation, and other personal expenses, and they’re important to keep in mind when considering your cost.

When do you pay your college bill?

The amount you owe the college per year is split into two or three bills based on your college’s academic calendar. You should expect to receive your fall bill via regular mail, email, or through your college portal around June or July. While bill due dates vary by college, they’re typically due before classes start.

How can I cover the remaining college bill after financial aid?

After financial aid has been applied to your college bill, there are several options to choose from to pay that remaining cost depending on what works best for you and your family’s financial circumstances. As you plan how to cover your remaining college bill, consider these options first:

  • Savings: If you and your family have funds set aside in a savings account or a college savings plan (such as a 529 college savings account), you can use this money toward your college bill.
  • Summer earnings: Earnings from summer or part-time jobs may cover part of the college bill. These earnings may also help with indirect expenses.
  • Scholarships: While your college may have awarded you scholarships, additional outside scholarships are a great way to help cover the remaining balance. However, if your bill is due soon, it may be difficult to find open scholarships that can cover this cost fully, so be sure to look for them year-round and pay attention to deadlines.
  • Tuition payment plans: This option can help make your bill more manageable by splitting it into several interest-free payments throughout the year. There may be a small fee to enroll in a payment plan. Check your college’s website for payment plans available to see if there’s one that fits into you and your family’s budget.

If you’ve looked into the above options and you still have a balance left to cover, you may need to consider borrowing loans to pay the remaining bill.

  • Direct PLUS loan: The federal Direct PLUS Loan (commonly referred to as a parent PLUS loan ) is a loan parents can apply for that allows them to borrow money to cover costs not covered by a student’s financial aid. It’s important to note that the responsibility for the loan falls on the parent borrower only, even if the student agrees to help pay. The maximum amount a parent can borrow from this loan is the cost of attendance at your school minus any other financial assistance you’re already receiving. The parent PLUS loan does not need to be repaid immediately, but interest will accrue while you’re in college.
  • Private loans: If you’re considering taking out additional student loans, we recommend you ensure you’ve taken out all the Federal Direct Student Loans you’re eligible for. If you’ve exhausted all other options and require a private loan, remember:
    • Read the fine print. Lenders will often advertise their lowest rates, however, these are only offered to borrowers with exceptional credit scores.
    • Most lenders will not give complete loan details until you have completed the loan application.
    • You’ll need to pay a bill each year of college, and loans can quickly add up, leaving you with a large monthly payment after you graduate or stop attending.

Once you’ve figured out the best way to pay your college bill, remember there are additional steps you need to take to be prepared for your upcoming semester.