3 ways to seek emergency aid while in school

A student and a professor talk while walking down a hall

Hit by a crisis? Your college and community offer help to cover basics like food, housing, medicine, and more.

It’s a difficult truth that the students who benefit the most from the earning power boost that a college, university, community college, or trade school degree can provide are sometimes the ones facing the greatest financial challenges on their way to that degree. In fact, research shows three out of every five college students face some level of basic needs insecurity, and students of color are more likely to experience it.1

If you’re facing a financial crisis during college and are unable to meet your basic expenses like food, housing, and tuition costs, resources on campus and in your community can help.

These programs are designed to provide emergency aid — if you have an unexpected expense, a loss of income, or a change in your parents’ finances — so you have the support you need to continue with your coursework.

If you find yourself in this situation, consider these three steps to find emergency aid in and around your campus.

1. Start with your financial aid office

The financial aid office is the home base for emergency funds and resources. They will understand the programs available both on campus and in your community — plus, they will be well-versed in the kind of financial aid package you have and the programs that work with your particular situation.

Whether you have student loans already or not, there are emergency grants, loans, and vouchers available, many that are backed by the government and designed to provide emergency support for things like tuition, housing, books, supplies, and transportation. As you review your options, make sure to discuss with your financial aid officer if there are any repayment stipulations you need to know about.

Your financial aid office will also know about other on-campus initiatives, for instance, if certain dorm rooms are set aside for students facing housing insecurity or meal vouchers you can claim. No matter what challenge you may be facing, they’re a good place to start.

And they will have suggestions for other types of help. For example, you may newly qualify for rent assistance, help with your phone or internet service, or low-cost medical care, depending on the nature of the crisis you’re facing. Or they can direct you to nonprofits that specialize in helping people with credit card debt, lack of reliable transportation, or clothing and personal care items.

2. See if you qualify for SNAP food benefits or other community nutrition resources

To receive benefits as a college student, you must be enrolled in an institute of higher education at least half-time and meet all the same criteria as nonstudents, plus meet at least one of the student-specific qualifications.

Criteria for all SNAP recipients vary by state, so check with your state agency on how to apply. The federal criteria are²:

  • Be at or below 130% of the poverty line in your gross monthly income, which is about $1,580 per month for one person
  • Have less than $2,750 in assets

Student-specific qualifications (you must meet at least one)³:

  • Are under age 18 or are age 50 or older.
  • Have a physical or mental disability.
  • Work at least 20 hours a week in paid employment.
  • Participate in a state or federally financed work study program.
  • Participate in an on-the-job training program.
  • Care for a child under the age of 6.
  • Care for a child age 6 to 11 and lack the necessary child care enabling you to attend school and work 20 hours a week or participate in work study.
  • Are a single parent enrolled full-time in college and taking care of a child under 12.
  • Receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance.
  • Are assigned to, placed in, or self-placed in a college or other institution of higher education through: A SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) program; Certain other E&T programs for low-income households, which are operated by a state or local government and have an equivalent component to SNAP E&T; A program under Title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) (PL 113-128); A Trade Adjustment Assistance Program under Section 236 of the Trade Act of 1974

Benefits can be used to buy groceries at virtually any store, and even some farmers markets.

If you’re not eligible for SNAP, check with your student affairs office to see if there are off-campus or on-campus food pantries, meal sharing programs, or other resources you may be able to use.

3. Have your financial aid package adjusted or seek federal aid

Normally, the federal financial aid package you receive is set for the academic year — but if there’s been a significant change between what you submitted on your federal income tax returns and your current financial situation, you may potentially be able to have your aid adjusted.

Again, your school’s financial aid office handles this process, so you’ll work with them directly on your appeal. They aren’t required to make changes to your package, but if you’re facing longer-term financial challenges, such as an unforeseen reduction in income or a sudden increase in medical expenses, they may consider it. You also have the option to work with the financial aid office to apply for federally funded student loans that you can use to help cover your unforeseen expenses.

If you find yourself in need of emergency aid, rest assured that there are resources in and around your college campus designed to help you.

A good place to start your scholarship search is with our Scholarship Resource Center, providing access to billions of dollars of scholarships.

Want to read more about building a spending plan in school?

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