Talk to your college about emergency financial aid, food and housing options available. College students without a financial safety net are in a tough spot when unexpected costs arise. The chances their parents can pick up the bill are not as high. A 2018 national survey led by Goldrick-Rab found that over a third of university students out of over 20,000 surveyed said they were food insecure, or had had limited or uncertain access to food in the previous 30 days. And 36% of those students said they were housing insecure in the last year, which means they had trouble paying housing bills or had to move frequently.
What colleges are doing to help?
Recognizing that a financial crisis can force a student to withdraw from classes, about three-quarters of colleges and other postsecondary schools offer some kind of help, according to a 2016 survey of emergency college aid programs by the professional association NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. Programs include loans and small cash grants, dining hall vouchers and food pantries, and scholarships to complete a semester.
Here are resources for students who need emergency help. Depending on your school’s policy, you may have to provide documentation of your financial need.
Emergency tuition assistance
Go to your school’s financial aid or student affairs office to ask about emergency programs, which could include emergency grants for students, completion scholarships, emergency student loans or vouchers. Usually this money can pay for tuition, housing, books, supplies and transportation.
For example, at Grand Rapids Community College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, assistance is available for students who face emergencies such as losing their job, eviction or utility shut-off. The fund has provided students with over $78,000 in grants and loans since 2014, according to Dave Murray, a school spokesperson.
Emergency college food options
If you don’t have consistent access to food, contact your school’s student affairs office to learn about programs such as food vouchers, scholarships, free meal plans, access to SNAP benefits and food pantries.
At the University of Georgia, where Jackson says 10% of the population is affected by food insecurity, students can apply for yearlong food scholarships that award meal plans. There’s also a campus food pantry.
Food pantries usually stock nonperishable foods, but some may also have fresh food and items such as cleaning supplies and hygiene products, says Clare Cady, co-founder and director of the College and University Food Bank Alliance, which has 626 member schools.
Housing assistance for college students
Few schools have emergency housing, and options are often limited.
Find out from your school’s housing or student affairs office if there is an on-campus emergency residency program. Some schools set aside dorm rooms. The office of student affairs at your school may also point to off-campus housing solutions including short-term sublets, apartments, youth shelters or room shares.
Finding long-term solutions
Emergency college aid programs tend to be short-term fixes that aren’t intended to replace federal aid. Be sure to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, each year. You may need to appeal if you don’t receive enough aid or an unexpected situation arises, such as unemployment, medical expenses or the death of a caregiver.
Emergency college aid programs tend to be short-term fixes that aren’t intended to replace federal aid.
To appeal your aid offer, even midyear, contact your school’s financial aid office. Be prepared to:
- Detail your circumstances.
- Ask the office to reconsider your aid award.
- Provide any documentation to support your claim.