Recovering from a Financial Hardship in College

A financial hardship in your family can throw off your college course, but there are things you can do to stay on track.

If you are in college and you or your family suffers a financial hardship like a loss of job, death, illness or divorce, you may feel like you'll never be able to afford to finish your degree. Before you start racking up debt or drop out, read these tips for staying on track until you and your family can get back on your feet financially.

Contact your financial aid office
If you or your family experiences a sudden change in financial situation, you should first contact your school's financial aid office. Some colleges and universities will grant a review of your financial aid package if there has been a special circumstance. Some examples of special financial circumstances that may qualify for a review include loss of job or reduction of income by a primary family wage-earner, death of a student's parent or spouse, natural disaster, separation or divorce, and unusual medical expenses to name a few. A counselor at your college's office of financial aid should be able to help you understand if you qualify for a review and what types of documentation and paperwork are needed. Your financial aid office can also assist you with other options. You may be required to submit paperwork and maybe write some essays, so have your ideas and personal information organized and prepared so you can meet application deadlines.

Investigate emergency student aid
In addition to scholarships, you might be able to take advantage of emergency student aid sources. Depending on the nature of your financial strain, you may be able to get emergency financial aid from a non-profit organization or a government agency. A counselor or a representative of your school's office of financial aid should be able to give you some helpful sources and let you know if you are eligible for emergency financial aid to help you through your financial hardship.

Get a job
If you were managing your schoolwork well before your financial emergency, now might be a good time to get a job to supplement your financial aid. Getting a job, especially one in your field of study can help you make some important contacts, as well as help you build an invaluable entry on your resume. Talk to the head of your department and schedule an appointment with your school's office of career services so you can land a job to help you through your financial hardship.

Look into other loans
If you have exhausted all of your other resources, you might need to go ahead and take out more student loans or a personal loan to help you make it through your degree. Shop around for the most competitive interest rates, as well as the most agreeable repayment options so that you can manage your debt when you finish your degree.

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Many different types of federal financial aid are available, including Pell Grants, Perkins Loans, Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans, so learning about the various options is an essential first step in any strategy for financing a college education.

A student can expect to qualify for a Federal Pell Grant if he or she meets certain conditions set forth in the application process. Generally, Federal Pell Grants are awarded to families who apply for a Pell Grant with incomes of less than $20,000, although there are exceptions based on a student's total criteria.

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A Federal Stafford Loan is a loan structured under the Federal Student Loan Program that allows undergraduate and graduate students to borrow money to attend college. They are designed to supplement a student's personal finances and family contributions to higher education. 

A Federal Perkins loan is one of many ways in which the government offers funds so that students with financial needs can attend college. This federal loan program is available from the U.S. Department of Education and helps with the cost of undergraduate programs and graduate programs.

Going into debt while you're in college is frighteningly easy. With the demands of your classes and a new social life, you might find that swiping that credit card is the easiest way to get the things you want and need. Rather than letting your credit card bills pile up, follow these tips for minimizing your debt while you are in college.

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