Can't Afford College

Accepted to College but Can’t Afford It

Tara Cunningham College Life, High School

You’ve gone through the whole college application and have been offered a place. Well Done! You now realise that the funding is not there. Here’s some advice.

If your financial aid package is not what you expected it would be there are other routes to continuing your education.

1. Student Loan
2. Scholarships
3. In State college options
4. Join the Military
5. Defer Your Place

The joy and relief of a college place. And then the major disappointment of your financial aid package being either zero or well below what you had hoped. It makes the whole thing a damp squib. But there are solutions. Don’t throw in the towel just yet.

Student Loans

Your financial aid may be much lower or non existent than what you thought it might have been. You have probably been offered a Federal Loan of $3500. But with costs of college running at $9k per year in state, living at home, that’s a far cry short of what you need to attend college.

So what to do. You could take the Federal loan and top it up, but the question is how. Your Federal loan will have interest applied but at a fixed rate. You don’t have to start repaying the loan until 6 months after you graduate or drop below half time enrolment. Depending on your terms you then have 10 - 25 years to repay your loan.

But this amount is not going to get you through college, so you will have to formulate a plan to have the remaining balance available.

You can look into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. You are required to pay the interest on this loan that accrues during in school time. The main difference is the amount that can be borrowed on this type of loan is up to $20500.


Your parents or guardians can apply for a Parent Plus Rate or a Direct Plus loan. This is a loan specifically set up to pay for a child’s education. It is a federal government loan. Interest is charged and you must have a clean credit rating. The advantage is the interest rate is fixed and you can borrow the full cost of college attendance less any other financial aid.
This all sounds great right? Well kind of. You need to make sure you have filled out the FAFSA application for federal funding to be available. But with any loan, it is exactly that, a loan, and needs to be repaid.

If you are hoping for a Direct Plus loan from your parents they have to be in full agreement. You may have other siblings that are already in college or coming behind you in high school. They have to be in agreement to take on this debt and also have the ability to pay it back.

Private Student Loans are another option. These are loans offered by banks or private lending institutions. The terms are set out by the lender and the interest rate can either be fixed or variable. A credit check will be run and generally you will need a cosigner or guarantor. You also won’t be given the option to defer the loan.

Whichever loan route you decide on only borrow what you need. Try and do some projections on future earnings for both you and your parents if going that route. A federal loan is always going to be the favorable approach but try and exhaust all other avenues before you commit to long term debt.


Scholarships differ from loans as they are free money. Not everyone is top of their game in a sport or being offered a full academic scholarship. In fact these kind of scholarships are quite rare. However lots of smaller scholarships are available and you apply for as many as you want. $500 or $1000 may not seem very much but if you have 5 or 6 of these it will make a large dint in your COA.

Some scholarships are academic based and some are community based. You may be awarded a scholarship because of a high GPA or because of volunteer work in your community.

Some are offered to students that attend particular high schools, money can often be donated to schools by Chambers of Commerce, or other local committees, like Rotary Clubs that have money set aside each year for local kids to progress in school.

Local family owned businesses sometimes have bursaries set up for a certain number of local kids each year.
Go and talk to your schools advisor or counselor and see who is awarded scholarships each year and on what merit they have received it.

Many scholarships need to be applied for before you leave high school. Make sure you get your applications in on time.

There are also national scholarships. Lots of information is sent out with these applications so I’d advise that you only apply to 4 or 5 to be able to keep on top of them.

In order to win a scholarship. a company or organization is choosing to back you as a person. Chances are you will have to write an essay to sell yourself to them. You want to sound fully committed and interested.

The last thing you need to bear in mind is that if you are offered a scholarship and have also applied for a Federal loan you will need to let FAFSA know about your scholarship funding as your loan and scholarship combined cannot exceed your COA.

Applying for scholarships is always going to be more beneficial than future debt. Get out there or on the net and see what’s on offer.

In State College Options

You may not be able to afford school because your school of choice is out of state. But I have to assume that you applied to more than one school. Hopefully you also applied to a few schools in state and possibly in your town. You may not have had this as your dream educator but it depends how much you want to go to college. Your local University probably has a lot of merit. It certainly has pro’s going for it.

You can live at home which cuts out a huge part of COA each year. I know that part of going to college is about becoming independent but sometimes that has to be put on hold. Don’t discount your local college just because it’s local. Do some research on your local school. You may be surprised at how well it ranks.

You have to weigh whether it’s better to go to college locally and keep costs down to a minimum rather than taking on huge amounts of debt that will still be with you when perhaps your own children are going to school.

Join the Military

The next option is a bit more extreme but don’t dismiss it just yet. If you think that loans or scholarships are out of the question then enlisting might be an option to consider.

Enlisting in any of the services for 2 years can lead to your tuition fees being covered. By entering the military you can defer going to college but become entitled to tuition grants of up to $4500 per year. It is considered part of your salary. Under the GI Bill you pay $100 per month for 12 months of Active Duty. This then entitles you to $2050 per month for 36 months or 4 years of schooling to go towards tuition, fees, board and supplies.

You need to make sure the school you are applying to recognizes VA. Most schools do in fairness, but always best to check in advance.

If you don’t want to go full on, enlisting for 2 years, you can alternatively enlist in the reserves. You are obliged to train a weekend a month and 2 full weeks a year. You will be paid for your time but they also pay your GI Bill contribution. This in turn can lead to some or indeed all of your college fees being covered in a state university.

Another option is to consider AmeriCorps. By serving a term with the corps you are then eligible to apply for a Segal AMCorps Education Award. This amount matches the Pell Grant for the year service is completed. The amount of award is dependent on the hours given in service.


This again is a grant and reward for your time given. It can be used for payment towards fees and school expenses. It can also be used to offset student federal loans that may have accrued. It cannot be used to reduce a personal loan or Parent Plus Loans.

Joining the military is not for everyone but it certainly is a way of educating yourself with little or no debt.

Defer your Place

The huge disappointment of realising you can’t actually afford to go to college may not be rectified by loans or scholarships. But receiving an education should never be prohibitive because of lack of funds.

If you have exhausted all other routes and have still the same outcome then I would suggest that you write to your admissions officer and ask for a deferral, explaining your reasons and plans for the year ahead.

You can then finish your senior year and go about applying for a job. High school graduates don’t get high paid jobs. You need to determine how much you think you might need to save during the year. It is a tough challenge to save a certain amount of money each month to put into a college fund. You will also have to resubmit your FAFSA application if you defer your place. If you decide to defer I would advise you give this route a lot of thought. It’s difficult to return to education after a year off.

Is it realistic that you are going to be able to save $5-10k? And maybe instead of getting a low paid job in a local store your time would be better spent with a year in the Corps where you can then earn the education award of up to $6k.

Of course as I say a year in the Corps is not for everyone but there are lots of different programs available from Community involvement to Eco Environment and will prepare you for college.

Money for college for many is always on the agenda. Middle class families are generally those that struggle the most. Underprivileged kids will generally qualify for full tuition grants and overprivileged never need to worry about where funding is coming from. But when you are just over the thresholds you may find that the path to University is suddenly very difficult. But please don’t give up. There are so many different routes to education.

There has to be one that will suit your needs. Keep searching and find the best one for you.

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Mum, Graphic designer, Website owner, Writer at Tweentotwenty | Website

Tara Cunningham is a Mum and Graphic Designer. My children's education has always been very important to me. I feel that if you are willing to put in the time they will appreciate the effort.
I hope that you find our thoughts and ideas useful and interesting.