Paying Room and Board Without Loans

Question: I received a full-tuition scholarship to a college, but still have to pay room and board. At $13,000, this is a lot for my family, and I was wondering if you had suggestions on how to finance this besides with loans. The school said I can still apply for financial aid, but all the money would have to be federal grants. Any other scholarships I receive will be deducted from the scholarship they already gave me. So is there any way to find a scholarship that the school won’t deduct from the initial grant? Thanks so much!

Congratulations on your full-tuition scholarship. If you qualify for federal grants, then you should definitely pursue that route. Unfortunately, many colleges do have a nasty habit of subtracting outside scholarships from financial aid packages. When that money is lopped off of loans, it’s rarely a problem. But when it comes off of grant money (the good stuff that you’ve already been promised and which you don’t have to pay back), it can be very frustrating, especially if you took the time to apply for that outside scholarship in the first place.

You best bet may be to bite the bullet and take out loans to cover your room and board costs this year but to look into a Resident Advisor job for next year. Resident Advisors (called “R.A.’s” on many campuses but by assorted similar names elsewhere) are students who receive free rooms (and, often, board, too) for supervising other students in college dorms. Typically, R.A.’s are upperclassmen. Sometimes this can mean juniors and seniors only, but sometimes it can mean sophomores as well.

R.A. positions tend to be very selective and usually go to students who are not only successful academically but also have shown involvement and leadership in extracurricular activities. So even before you start your college career in the fall, you should read about the qualifications at your college and then try to position yourself for an R.A. job down the road.

Check also to see if your college offers any “cooperative” living situations. This is where students take on chores such as cooking and cleaning in exchange for a reduced room and board bill. Commonly, co-op houses are off-limits to freshmen, but it really depends on where you are enrolled.

You might also want to post on the College Confidential discussion forum to ask current students at the college you will attend (or at any college) for creative suggestions on how to cover room and board fees. For instance, some may suggest getting a minimalist meal plan, if your college offers different meals-per-week options. (Most students pay for more food than they actually eat.)

Some may suggest that living off-campus (when allowed) can be cheaper than living on-campus, but I feel that an on-campus experience–at least for your first year, and maybe for all four, depending on the school you attend–can be worth the extra cost.

(posted 4/4/2011)