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College costs vary widely depending on the type of institution and whether the students are domestic or overseas residents. For example, a 2021 College Board report found that the average tuition and fees at a public four-year institution for state students was $10,740 and at a private nonprofit four-year school was $38,070 per year.
The same report found that undergraduate students enrolled in the 2020-21 academic year received an average financial aid of $14,800.
Although this aid is substantial on paper, it does not always meet the financial needs of students, especially in the event of a sudden job loss or unplanned expenses. In these situations, students can find help through emergency student loans.
What Are Emergency Student Loans?
Emergency student loans are a short-term loan option available to actively enrolled students. As a rule, the funds cannot be used for tuition fees. Instead, they are intended to be used for unexpected family emergencies such as a death in the family or financial hardships such as homelessness or food insecurity.
The loans are usually offered by the school itself through the institution’s tax office; however, not all schools offer these loans. The conditions of these fast student loans also differ from institute to institute.
Students must generally be enrolled in the academic year in which they apply for the emergency student loan. They must also be in good standing with the college or university, provide documented evidence of their urgent financial need, and agree to repay the loan within the required timeframe.
How to get an emergency student loan and extra help
If you find yourself in financial distress, you may want to consider whether emergency student loans are an option. Here’s how.
Start with your school’s tax office
The first step is to find out from your school’s study grants office whether they offer short-term emergency loans for students. Share your specific circumstances with the Grant Administrator to learn more about the options available to you.
If your school provides emergency loans to students, it can be helpful to have documentation that proves your financial emergency. Taking this step pre-emptively can help initiate the process earlier, which is crucial in a time-sensitive situation.
In May 2021, the Department of Education provided $36 billion in facilities to support students in financial need during the Covid-19 pandemic. Your school may have a special fund set aside for emergency situations like the one you are facing.
Apply for unused government student aid
If you have already submitted your Free Student Aid (FAFSA) application and have received government financial assistance, you may be eligible to apply for additional funding.
For example, before your emergency struck, you were offered $2,000 in federal loans, but you only accepted $1,000 of that assistance. If you find yourself in financial distress later in the academic year, you can still claim the unused portion of federal student aid. Your registry office can help you determine whether this is an option for you.
Consider private student loans
Private student loans are another option if you are in dire need of an emergency student loan. However, this type of loan should usually be a last resort when meeting an urgent financial need.
Private credit is more flexible when it comes to loan amounts, but private debt also has stricter credit requirements. Qualifying for the no-cosigner loan will be challenging for students with no credit or bad credit. If you can qualify, private loans often have higher interest rates than the other options on this list.
This type of loan can also become problematic if the short-term emergency becomes a longer-term emergency, since deferral and deferral options are not always guaranteed. Make sure you can manage the monthly installments before proceeding.
5 Alternatives to Emergency Student Loans
Outside of emergency student loans, needy students can seek additional resources that can help with unplanned expenses in an emergency.
1. Request your financial support
If your financial situation or that of your family has changed significantly since you submitted your FAFSA, you should consider asking your school for a professional assessment of your aid amount.
A professional judgment is a formal evaluation conducted by your school’s financial aid administrator. On a case-by-case basis, an administrator may revise the data on your FAFSA based on new circumstances affecting your award of financial assistance. If you are listed as a dependent on your FAFSA, you may be entitled to more help if, for example, your parent unexpectedly becomes disabled and unable to work.
If the judgment finds that extenuating circumstances affect your financial situation, the school may decide to change your financial aid package and possibly increase your premium.
2. Research additional scholarship programs
If your school doesn’t offer emergency student loans, see if your state or a local nonprofit offers one-time emergency grants for students in financial need.
For example, the California College Student Emergency Support Fund offers small $500 emergency grants to eligible students who demonstrate financial need. Programs like this can be a lifeline for students, and depending on the program, the money may not even have to be paid back.
3. Find a campus pantry
Grocery expenses can eat up your available funds during an emergency. Some college campuses support students by offering pantry resources.
These pantries offer staples like canned goods, pasta, dried breakfast items, and more. For example, the University of Florida operates its Feed-A-Bull Food Pantry, a confidential program that provides enrolled students with custom-made grocery bags.
4. Discover coupon programs on campus
Another way to find support is through campus gift card programs. These programs provide additional financial support for expenses such as housing, books, and supplies.
For example, the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Professional Studies offers short-term support through textbook grants. Recipients will receive a $200 coupon to use at the school’s bookstore to reduce out-of-pocket textbook costs.
5. Agree on a tuition extension
If you’re unsure about paying your tuition on time due to a sudden emergency, see if your tax office offers temporary deferrals or payment plans.
These extensions create short-term relief and usually extend your payment period by a defined period of time. For example, the University of Houston offers an emergency deferral plan that allows enrolled students to defer payments until day 90 of the fall or spring semester, or day 45 of the summer semester.
As you explore this alternative, ask about any fees or interest charges that may apply.
Managing the financial responsibility for the cost of higher education in the face of an unexpected emergency is challenging. However, investigating emergency student loans and other student assistance programs at your school, state, or community can help you weather a short-term financial crisis.
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