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    Emergency Financial Aid for College Students

    By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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    Reviewed by Annie Trout

    Annie has spent the past 18+ years educating students about college admissions opportunities and coaching them through building a financial aid package. She has worked in college access and college admissions for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission/Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, Middle Tennessee State University, and Austin Peay State University.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: November 10th, 2023
    Emergency Financial Aid for College Students

    Emergency financial aid is an invaluable resource for college students in an unstable financial situation. If you or your parents’ income is affected, or you incur unexpected costs, you could have trouble making tuition payments. Luckily, there are some resources available for students in this situation. If you are having trouble meeting your living costs and paying for college, these resources should come in handy!

    Resources through your college

    Many colleges offer assistance to students in an emergency. Each college has different emergency financial aid programs. For instance, some may offer grants to subsidize food and housing. Others may offer tuition grants or waivers. And some may offer loans rather than grants. These resources can also go towards other education expenses. That may include books, internet costs, and even transportation costs like car repair or public transportation tickets. Below we’ve included a few colleges and their emergency fund policies as examples for you!

    Ohio University

    Ohio University offers something called microgrants to their students in emergency situations. Microgrants will not exceed $500, and are available to all currently enrolled students. These microgrants will not need to be repaid. 

    Reed College

    Reed College offers a few different sources of emergency funding for students. They offer emergency funding for cases where students cannot receive support from family, health insurance emergencies and even reimbursement costs for thesis printing! 

    University of Washington 

    The University of Washington offers emergency aid to students who are facing financial struggles. These funds should only be requested when you are facing unplanned, unexpected and unavoidable circumstances. Emergency funding from the University of Washington can come in several forms including grants, loans, and community resources.

    In addition to emergency funds, it’s not unheard of for colleges to provide special funding at other times as well. For example, during COVID-19 many colleges rolled out emergency funding for students that qualified. Although each college distributes aid differently, there is one common thread between schools. Almost every school determines aid eligibility based on the results of the FAFSA. This is just another reason to make sure that you have your FAFSA filled out on time every year. Students can reach out to the office of financial aid, the office of student life, and also their academic advisor if they are seeking emergency assistance.

    Housing discounts

    Unfortunately, housing financial aid is hard to come by in an emergency. If you are in a dorm, you may be able to get a grant or discount at your school’s discretion. You can try reaching out to the office of housing or student affairs at your school. Even if you rent privately and live off-campus, your college may be able to help you secure emergency housing.

    If dorms close during an emergency, international students may face unique challenges. Anyone who is unable to return home should contact their housing office to find out what options may remain open. The office of housing may be willing to work with students to ensure they have a place to stay.

    Affordable connectivity program

    During the coronavirus pandemic, the FCC established a need-based Broadband internet discount program. This program is now called the Affordable Connectivity Program. The purpose of this program is to ensure that people have access to the internet which means they can access virtual classrooms, complete remote jobs and even access healthcare.

    Eligibility for this program can come in many ways, including if you are eligible for the Pell Grant. You can speak with your local broadband provider about if they participate in this program, or visit the FCC’s website to read more about how to qualify. This program could be worth $50 a month! So, it’s certainly worth checking out!

    Next steps: Be prepared

    If your finances are tight, it’s a good idea to have a contingency plan before an emergency hits. The coronavirus is an example of a worldwide emergency that impacted everyone. But personal emergencies happen as well. You should learn what your options are if your income is interrupted or if you incur unexpected costs. A medical emergency could drastically change you or your parents’ finances. Make sure you know who to contact if you need financial help. 


    It’s also important to know that many scholarships have continuous enrollment clauses so sitting out a semester could drastically impact your financial aid. This is why the decision to withdraw from school should not be taken lightly and you should communicate with your academic advisor, as well as financial aid officers. These college administrators are your support system and there to help you succeed in college and navigate emergencies. 

    Where to start

    Many of the programs that you’ll find will be specific to your school or state, which means the best place to start looking is at your school! If your college does not offer anything, check your state’s government website and look for any emergency resources there. If you feel that you are struggling to find anything, contact your schools financial aid office or your college advisor, as they may be able to help put you in contact with the right people.

    The bottom line: do your research

    The bottom line to a lot of emergency funding is that you’ll need to find it and seek it out on your own. Your college, or any other organization that offers funding, won’t know about your situation unless you reach out to them and make them aware of it. It can be uncomfortable to inform others of the difficult times you may be facing, but it is a necessary part of getting the help you may need.

    Keep reading: How to pay for college

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Emergency financial aid isn’t something that anyone plans to use, but it is a good thing to be aware of before you would need it
    • Depending on the type of funding you need, you may receive emergency funding through different forms, such as grants, loans or community programs
    • Looking into college’s emergency financial aid options for students is a great thing to look into while you are exploring colleges
    • Every little bit of money counts in an emergency situation, so don’t overlook programs that may not offer a lot of money up front, as over time that money will add up and make a difference

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    Frequently asked questions about emergency financial aid

    How do I start an emergency fund?

    Having an emergency fund for college is a great idea! You never know when you may need extra funding. There’s no rule for how much money you should have in your emergency fund, but steadily adding to it over time is always a good idea. The more you can save the more you’ll have for when you need it. If you haven’t started an emergency fund, it’s never too late to start. Simply start putting aside a little bit of money at a time and watch it grow!

    What is the Higher Education Emergency Relief fund?

    The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) was a federal program established during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic to help students and educational institutions that had been negatively impacted by the pandemic. There were three total disbursements of HEERF funds that went to colleges and higher education institutions. However, the last disbursement occurred in March of 2021 and there will be no future disbursements through this program. The money colleges and universities were given was to be partially allocated directly to students. While it is unlikely, it is possible that your school may still have some of the money from this federal program left for students facing difficult times.

    What does an emergency fund pay for?

    An emergency fund is meant to help you pay for unexpected and unplanned expenses. This may mean paying for unexpected car repairs, unplanned medical visits, or unforeseen family expenses. When you start your emergency fund you should think through what scenarios you are comfortable dipping into these savings for. Things such as needing a new laptop may feel like an emergency at the moment, but it may not be something that you actually need to use your emergency fund for, it’s good to talk about these things before they happen.

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