A Guide to Funding the Financial Aid Gap

Like a gap on a sidewalk, gapping is when a college can't meet the full financial needs of a student.

Flickr user Simon Law

Although many schools offer financial aid packages to help make college more affordable for its students, some individuals find themselves unable to cover the entire cost of their education even with these packages. This is what they call a financial aid gap. If a student is in this situation – what are their options? Finding ways to fund the financial aid “gap” is essential.

What is a Financial Aid Gap?

The financial aid gap is the difference between any financial aid packages and offers you received and the actual cost of college. Although the federal government and colleges have student loans, grants, and other forms of financial aid to offer students, some may not fully cover the student’s full financial needs. 

This could be due to a number of different factors, including the school’s limitation on institutional grant aid, the date the student completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or there is a great amount of financial need that cannot be covered by the available packages. The financial need factor can be compounded if the students’ parents make a higher income, but are not helping their child pay for college.

Ways You Can Fund the “Gap”

Even if you find yourself in this boat, you likely have options. Though you will have to keep the actual size of the gap in mind. Is it just a few hundred dollars or is it tens of thousands? This could impact your approach to funding the gap.

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1. Private Student Loans

One of the most obvious ways to fund the financial aid gap is to take out private student loans from credit unions or banks. Although they tend to have higher interest rates and require a co-signer, you could get the money you need to be able to attend college this year and reassess your financial situation in the following year. Keep in mind though that private student loans tend to have to be paid back immediately. If you have any questions about repayment, make sure to reach out to the lender ahead of time. We also fully recommend shopping around to find the best rates!

2. Work

Some students are offered a work-study program as part of their financial aid package. However, this may only cover a small portion of educational expenses as hours and opportunities can be limited – they’re also first come, first serve, so many students miss out entirely! 

Thankfully, college towns tend to work with students to develop a schedule that allows the employee to continue school and earn some extra cash in their free time. This can help you afford education and its related costs or allow you to pay back those private student loans as payments come due.

3. Scholarships

If you haven’t started applying for scholarships yet, now is the time! These awards can vary from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, but even the small amounts are worth applying to. Scholarships can add up and help bridge that financial aid gap. Some awards are even financial need-based, so if you can prove you’re in need of extra cash, you could very well win it!

4. Assistance from Family

This will vary from student to student, but you can always ask your extended family for a bit of financial assistance to fund the gap. This can be a great avenue if you’re only short a few hundred dollars, but some students may find that a grandparent, an uncle, or an aunt is willing to put even more money towards their education. Keep in mind though that you shouldn’t pressure your family members into helping you afford college, asking politely for a donation or even an interest-free loan can help you bridge the gap.

What if You Can’t Fund the Gap?

Even with the above avenues available, students may find themselves unable to afford their dream college. Some could discover they’re several thousand dollars short! If you’re in this situation, what should you do?

Well, you have a few different options.

1. Contact Your Financial Aid Office

One would be to reach out to your college’s financial aid office to explain your situation. Be polite and keep to the facts. Explain that you want to attend the school, but with the current financial aid package, you simply cannot attend. They could help you find additional programs you qualify for that will allow you to fund that financial aid gap.

2. Attend a More Affordable School

Another option is to attend another school that is more affordable to you, even if this particular one is your dream college. It’s important to be realistic about your finances and education. If it’s unaffordable or you have to go into severe financial debt to afford college, you could be putting yourself in a hole after graduation. This can lead to increased stress, especially if you’re unable to pay back the debt. You can always revisit your finances after a year or two to see if you can transfer to the college in question. And attending a community college is a great way to work on your general education requirements and save money!

3. Take Some Time Off School to Evaluate

A third option is to wait and attend college for a few years. At age 24, you no longer need your parents to complete the FAFSA, which could change your financial aid status and make you eligible for additional financial aid packages. There are pros and cons to starting college late, though, so you’ll definitely want to review your goals as it relates to these. 


Discovering you have a gap in your college finances can be stressful and concerning. What if you can’t attend your dream college? Will you graduate with extreme debt? There are options available to you that can make attending the school in question more affordable, but it’s important to see the bigger picture to make a more informed decision.

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