10 Resources Cash-Strapped College Students Should Be Using
As any college student knows, the cost of tuition, books, food, housing, and basic expenses quickly reaches epic proportions. Even those fortunate enough to receive financial aid may find it hard to make ends meet. Given how much they're paying, beleaguered undergrads should take full advantage of all the resources available to help lighten the financial load.
The federal TRIO programs are designed to help low-income, first-generation, disabled, and underrepresented students. Colleges and universities receive funding through the Student Support Services program to provide academic tutoring, financial aid information and help completing applications, career planning, counseling on financial literacy, and other services to eligible students who apply for the program.
Don't forget that the university charges students fees to subsidize many events and facilities. Students likely have already paid for the gym, concerts, movies, and sporting events on campus, or access to the venues may be relatively cheap. Resist the urge to spend more money off campus.
Before the semester starts, take time to review your meal plan. Is it realistic to make it to the dining hall every single morning for breakfast -- especially with early classes? Student groups and campus events may provide an additional meal or two per week, not to mention dinners out with friends. Credits or cash leftover at the end of the semester probably have to be forfeited. A smaller meal plan may save money and still keep you fed.
In addition to the federal TRIO programs, many universities offer additional assistance to first-generation and low-income students. Sometimes referred to as Educational Opportunity Programs, they let students tap into still more tutoring and advising, financial aid assistance, and sometimes even a food pantry or free office supplies, says Stephanie Kinkaid, a student life professional at Monmouth College in Illinois.
The campus health center is more than the go-to place when you're feeling under the weather -- it's also a source for free services. These usually include free condoms, confidential STD counseling and testing, nutrition and eating disorder counseling, and even discounts on items such as bicycle helmets. A wellness program is often part of the health services department and may include free massages or breakfast during stressful times, such as finals week.
Federal legislation conveys that students with learning disabilities can receive a wide range of services, including everything from assistance with note taking to specialized test-taking facilities.
Before spending hundreds on textbooks, remember that professors usually put a copy or two on hold at the university library, says Michelle Perry Higgins, author of "College Poor No More: 100 Savings Tips for College Students." Students can't take the book out of the library, but they can use it for free to read the required material and complete assignments.
If the university is not located in a city or downtown area, it can be hard to shop for necessities anywhere besides the expensive on-campus stores. Many universities operate free or low-cost shuttle service to nearby towns or malls, where big-box bargains await.
Many students are eligible for part-time work-study jobs with flexible schedules. A resident advisor position comes with free room and board, and sometimes a stipend. Check with the psychology and economics departments for paid opportunities to participate in academic studies.
Many schools, although not all, provide special student access codes for popular software products. Check Microsoft's DreamSpark website to see a list of software available for free. Some departments on campus may let students use computer labs and print materials for free, saving the cost of a printer, paper, and ink.