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    Every Little Bit Counts

    Chances are, your financial aid package won’t cover all your expenses. But don’t panic--get creative.

    By Elesha Coffman

    get creative with paying for collegeShock. It’s a common reaction when you and your family see how much is left of your college bill after your aid package is subtracted out. You can’t help but wonder, Where am I going to get that kind of money?

    Well, odds are you’re not going to get it all in one place. If you start looking for $7,000 (or what ever) in one lump sum, you’ll probably get discouraged real quick. But if you can find $2,000 here, $500 there … eventually you’ll reach the amount you need. You just need some patience and some ideas of where to look. Start with these three: scholarships, "hidden" cash and homegrown jobs.

    Scholarships

    Definitely the place to begin. Scholarships are fabulous sources of aid because they don’t have to be paid back, can often be obtained with relatively little effort, and come in so many shapes and sizes that you stand a great chance of qualifying for at least a few.

    You can find out about scholarships in all kinds of places: your high school guidance office, the local library or Chamber of Commerce, at your church and in books like The Complete Scholarship Book from Student Services, Peterson’s Scholarships, Grants and Prizes, and The Financial Aid Book (Perpetual Press). The Web is also a great source.

    When you’re searching for scholarships, don’t overlook the ones with smaller award amounts. Sure, $200 doesn’t sound like much, but if you can make that much for two hours’ worth of essay-writing and application-filling, it averages out to about the best hourly rate you could possibly get right now.

    "Hidden" cash

    No, not the pennies in your piggy bank. For the kind of cash you’re looking for, you’ll want to sit down with your parents and pore over all the family’s financial records. First, look for forgotten stashes--savings bonds, the college fund Grandma started when you were born, a savings account no one’s bothered to cash out. You might be surprised at what you find.

    Next, see if there’s any money that can be moved around to yield a higher return. The helpful people at your local bank could talk you through a number of short-term investment strategies (CDs, mutual funds, etc.) designed to fill near-future financial gaps. Larger scale money-moving options are available as well, such as refinancing the house or taking out a home equity loan. You don’t want to do anything that will cost more than it saves in the long run, but some prudent money maneuvering might be just what it takes to get you (and any subsequent siblings) through your college years.

    Another place to look for cash is your overstuffed closets. Got a collection of baseball cards or Star Wars action figures? An ugly antique vase that could fetch a nice price? Today might be the rainy day you’ve been saving for.

    Homegrown jobs

    You might already be planning to work part-time at school. The relatively big-time commitment of a steady job is often a good plan). But if it either doesn’t fit into your schedule or won’t provide all the money you need, you could always consider working for yourself.

    One student at a small midwestern college paid for much of her education by renting out her family’s barn as a summer storage place for dorm-room items. Another student raked in big bucks after he bought an espresso machine and opened his own coffee shop on campus. Some other great self-starter ideas include:

    • proofreading term papers (put that English major to good use!)
    • selling pop out of your dorm fridge
    • running a shuttle/errand service for students without cars
    • moving furniture (great for football players and weight lifters)
    • packing and shipping boxes during the year-end move-out
    • providing on-site tech support for students suffering from finals-week computer crashes
    • tutoring or teaching lessons in your area of expertise
    • providing laundry or tailoring service (you’d be amazed at how many of your peers can’t take care of their clothes)
    • arranging and delivering bouquets made of wild or wholesale flowers
    • singing or playing an instrument for local church programs, high-class dinner parties, weddings or even funerals
    • fixing bikes or cars

    If you’re counting on other students to be your primary customers, you won’t want to plan on charging too much--many of them will be as poor as you are. You also don’t want to get in over your head--other students’ crunch times will be your crunch times, too. But if you can figure out some way to put your spare time and special talents to good use, more money to you!

    As you can see, there are lots of options for students whose Expected Family Contributions are much higher than they ever expected to pay. You might have to stretch yourself, but college is still within reach--and your hard work will pay off in the end.

    Click Your Way to Cash

    The Internet can be a great resource for finding college money. Take a look at these helpful financial aid sites:



    FinAid: The Smart Student Guide to Financial Aid
    www.finaid.org

    Start here. This well-organized comprehensive site provides free, objective information on just about every aspect of the search for college funds. You'll find the lowdown on loans ands cholarships, calculators for figuring your costs and needs, straight answers about financial aid applications, an interactive "Ask the Aid Advisor" feature, and much more.



    fastWEB: Financial Aid Search Through the Web
    www.fastweb.com

    This site's searchable database connects you to more than 400,000 private sector scholarships, fellowships, grants and loans. Just create a personal account, and fastWEB searches its database to find scholarships and other aid for which you might be eligible. The service is free, and all of your information is kept private unless you choose to allow fastWEB to share it.



    Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
    www.fafsa.ed.gov

    Save time and paperwork by filing your FAFSA online. The page also offers tips for completing the form and answers general student aid questions on topics like "What's in a financial aid package?" and "How will federal aidprograms help me pay for college?"



    National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators
    www.nasfaa.org

    While this site is not a source of student aid, it is a wellspring of information straight from the folks who know financial aid best. Under "Financial Aid Information for Parents, Students and Counselors," you'll find self-quizzes, checklists, and help for filling out complicated aid forms. Also check out the Cash for College brochure, which features even more helpful financial aid hints.



    Peterson's Education Center: Financing Education
    www.petersons.com

    Helpful articles here explain trends in financial aid, debunk scholarship myths, offer tips for parents, and define those confusing financial aid terms.



    Tuition: Impossible
    www.kaploan.com/tuition

    What should you do with gift money from Grandma? Is it cheaper to live on campus or off? This page is actually a game (Tuition: Impossible--can't you just hear the theme music?) in which you make financial decisions and watch how they affect your college funding totals. Not intended to be comprehensive or entirely realistic, this is still a fun place to start thinking through your options.



    U.S. Department of Education
    www.ed.gov

    How might recent legislation affect your financial aid? What are some creative ways to pay back your student loans? Will new tax credits helpyour family pay for college? These questions and others are answered here inthe "Student Financial Assistance" section.