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My Parents Can’t Afford College Anymore – What Should I Do?

When most parents offer to fund their child’s tuition, it’s with the expectation that their financial circumstances will remain relatively unchanged. Even with minor dips in income or temporary periods of unemployment, a solid plan will likely see the child through to graduation.

Unfortunately, what these plans don’t tend to account for is a global pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy and job market.

Now, many parents of college-age children are finding themselves struggling to stay afloat – much less afford college tuition. This leaves their children who were previously planning to graduate college with little or no debt in an uncomfortable position.

So if you’re a student suddenly stuck with the bill for your college expenses, what can you do? Read below for some strategies to help you stay on track.

Contact the University

Your first step is to contact the university and let them know that your financial situation has changed. You may have to write something that explains how your parent’s income has decreased.

Many students think the federal government is responsible for doling out aid to students, but federal aid is actually distributed directly by the schools themselves. In other words, your university is the only institution with the authority to provide additional help. If they decide not to extend any more loans or grants, you’re out of luck.

Ask your advisor if there are any scholarships you can apply for. Make sure to ask both about general university scholarships and department-specific scholarships if you’ve already declared a major. If you have a good relationship with a professor, contact them for suggestions on where to find more scholarship opportunities.

Some colleges also have emergency grants they provide to students. Contact the financial aid office and ask how to apply for these.

Try to Graduate Early

Graduating early can save you thousands or even tens of thousands in tuition and room and board expenses. Plus, the sooner you graduate, the sooner you can get a job and start repaying your student loans.

Ask your advisor if graduating early is possible for you. It may require taking more classes per semester than you planned on and being strategic about the courses you sign up for.

Fill out the FAFSA

If your parents have never filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) because they paid for your college in full, now is the time for them to complete it. The FAFSA is what colleges use to determine eligibility for both need-based and merit-based aid. Most schools require the FAFSA to hand out scholarships and work-study assignments.

Because the FAFSA uses income information from a previous tax return, it won’t show if your parents have recently lost their jobs or been furloughed. However, once you file the FAFSA, you can send a note to your university explaining your current situation.

Make sure to explain this to your parents if they think filing the FAFSA is a waste of time. Some schools won’t even provide merit-based scholarships to students who haven’t filled out the FAFSA.

Get a Job

If you don’t already have a job, now is the time to get one. Look at online bulletin boards to see what opportunities are available around campus. Check on job listing sites like Monster, Indeed and LinkedIn. Make sure you have a well-crafted resume and cover letter.

Try to think outside the box. If you’re a talented graphic designer, start a freelance business and look for clients on sites like Upwork or Fiverr. If you’re a fluent Spanish speaker, start tutoring other students. Look for jobs where you can study when things are slow or that provide food while you’re working.

Ask anyone you know for suggestions, including former and current professors, older students and advisors. If you had a job back home, contact your old boss. Because so many people are working remotely these days, they may be willing to hire you even if you’re in a different city.

It may be too late to apply for a Resident Advisor (RA) position now but consider it as an option for next year. An RA lives in the dorms and receives free or discounted room and board in exchange for monitoring the students, answering their questions, conducting regular inspections and other duties.

Take Out Private Loans

If you still need more money after you’ve maxed out your federal student loans and applied for more scholarships, private student loans may be the next best option.

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Private student loans usually have higher interest rates and fewer repayment and forgiveness options than federal loans. In 2020, the interest rate for federal undergraduate student loans was 2.75% while the rate for private student loans varied from 3.53% to 14.50%.

Private lenders have higher loan limits than the federal government and will usually lend the cost of tuition minus any financial aid. For example, if your tuition costs $35,000 a year and federal loans and scholarships cover $10,000 a year, a private lender will offer you $25,000 annually.

Taking out private loans should be a last resort because the rates are so high, and there’s little recourse if you graduate and can’t find a job. Using private loans may be fine if you only have a semester or two left before you graduate, but freshmen should be hesitant about using this strategy.

Consider Transferring to a Less Expensive School

Before resorting to private student loans to fund your education, consider transferring to a less expensive university. The average tuition cost at a public in-state university was $10,440 for the 2019-2020 school year. The cost at an out-of-state public university was $26,820, and the cost at a private college was $36,880.

If you can transfer to a public college and move back home, you can save on both tuition and housing.

Switching to a different college may sound like a drastic step, but it might be necessary if the alternative is borrowing $100,000 in student loans. Remember, no one knows how long this pandemic and recession will last, so it’s better to be conservative.

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How to Get a Virtual Internship

This is not a great time to be looking for career experience. Industries are suffering, opportunities are scarce and most people are working from home. But if you’re in need of an internship, there are still plenty of options to work virtually – if you know how to sniff them out.
Here’s what you need to know in order to find a virtual internship: where to look, who to talk to, and how to make sure your application stands out from the competition.

Tips for Getting a Virtual Internship

Before you start applying for internships, you need to have the appropriate documents. Here are the most important.

Draft a Resume

Students who don’t already have a resume can find free resume templates through Google Docs and Microsoft Word. These templates have clean designs and are easy to edit.

If you want something more unique, you can buy a template on Etsy. Choose a template that you can easily edit in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. If you’re applying for internships in a creative field like graphic design or advertising, pick a template that has more flair and shows your personality.

When writing your resume, focus on the skills you’ve learned and your accomplishments. If you were a waitress at Waffle House (like I was for a summer), mention how it taught you multitasking and organizational skills.

Create a LinkedIn profile and start connecting with people you know. Ask past employers for recommendations and to endorse you for specific skills like Photoshop or Excel.

Work on a Cover Letter

Some internships will require a cover letter. A cover letter should express the value you’ll bring to the company, like how your interests and skills fit with the organization and why you would be a good addition.

If you’re submitting a cover letter for an online application, make sure to use any keywords mentioned in the job description. Some companies use software that filters out cover letters missing these keywords.

Have a parent or adult mentor look over both your resume and cover letter. They can offer you advice on how to phrase specific ideas and remind you of jobs, awards, and other accomplishments you’ve forgotten about.

Where to Find a Virtual Internship

Once you’ve created a resume and basic cover letter, you can start applying. Here are the best places to find a virtual internship.

Talk to Your College

The first place to look is your college career center. Many large companies have direct relationships with universities and accept a certain number of interns from there every year.

Contact the university career center and ask them about internship opportunities. If you already have a declared major, your department may also have its own career counselor who can help. They may have more personal relationships with hiring managers and internship recruiters.

Sometimes colleges have their own internship and job boards, but it still helps to talk to a counselor directly. They may have more resources and can answer your specific questions.

Even though the pandemic has changed how colleges operate, some are still holding virtual career fairs. You’ll likely have to register in advance and choose a specific time slot, so look into these options as soon as possible.

Make sure to follow up regularly if you don’t hear back from the career counselor. They may be busy, and your emails can get lost in the shuffle. Don’t feel bad about reaching out multiple times- this is part of what you pay for as a student and you’re entitled to their help.

Contact People You Already Know

If you’ve had internships before, contact people from those companies and ask if they need help. It’s much easier to get an internship when you already know the people in charge – especially if you made a good impression during your tenure.

It doesn’t matter if the people you worked with have different jobs now. They may still work in a similar industry and need an intern. Make a list of where you’ve worked and all the people you remember. If you’re having trouble remembering names, go to the company’s LinkedIn page to jog your memory and find their contact information.

After you’ve contacted them, reach out to any professors you know who still have direct ties to the industry. They can forward your information or send you links to opportunities they’ve seen.

Don’t be afraid to contact people at companies where you turned down an internship position. Most people don’t take that personally and may still have positive memories of you – plus, getting a previous internship offer from a company indicates that you’re probably a good fit.

If you’re reaching out to professors you haven’t talked to in a while, remind them what class of theirs you took and include a copy of your resume. This will make it easier for them to forward the email to any prospects.

Take your time when crafting emails to industry contacts. If you write an email with typos and grammar mistakes, your email may be deleted immediately. This is especially true if you’re contacting someone you don’t know. They may receive dozens of emails from students like you and not have time to respond to them all.

Look at Job Sites

If you’ve reached out to your networking contacts with no luck, it’s time to look for a virtual internship on a job site. Job sites should be the last place you look for a virtual internship because it’s harder to stand out among a sea of candidates.

Here are some of the best sites and apps to use:

Remember not to discount an internship if there’s no mention that the job will be remote. Some listings may be outdated and not reflect the current situation.

When you apply, check the company’s website and LinkedIn profile to see if you have any personal connections. Having someone in common can help get your application into the right hands.

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