Six Ways to Get Last-Minute Cash for College

Last Updated Jun 18, 2009 5:20 PM EDT

Here's what I'd call a bad day:
You just received a college tuition bill for the upcoming school year, but you can't possibly pay the full amount.

This financial disconnect is happening a lot this year. Here's one reason why: Colleges make financial aid decisions based on a family's income during the previous calendar year. So aid packages assembled for the 2009-10 academic year are based on what parents earned in 2008. For anybody who has been laid off or is struggling with catastrophic medical bills, those old figures are as real as Bernie Madoff's popularity numbers.

There's still time, however, to snag last-minute financial aid cash. Here's how:

1. Ask for help. Schools, which are being inundated with last-minute aid appeals, are trying their best to help families. According to a U.S. News & World Report article, for instance, the University of California at Berkeley has approved 85% of its financial aid appeals this year. In a normal year, Berkeley rejects half the requests.

2. Update the school. Let the school know if your family's finances have changed since you completed the financial aid applications. Be as specific as possible about your current situation by offering to provide pay stubs, major bills, tax forms and any other relevant documents.

3. Have your child make the call. It's more likely that a financial aid officer will be a softy if a student makes the pitch for more money.

4. Be persistent. Find out what staffer will be handling your case. If you don't hear back from a school, don't assume your request was denied. It might have been trapped in voice mail purgatory. Try again.

5. Don't procrastinate. It's better to plead your case now while money might still be available than waiting until the back-to-school sales start. If you dawdle until then, the cash in the institutional kitty might be gone.

6. When in doubt, file for financial aid. Even if you currently don't need a college's help, it makes sense to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Without submitting this document, you won't be eligible for any federal or state assistance if you encounter financial trouble. The FAFSA deadline is June 30.

Empty wallet image by NoHoDamon, CC 2.0.