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Can You Use Financial Aid for Personal Expenses?

The costs associated with earning your degree can quickly add up. Tuition and books are just the beginning—there are often lab and technology fees to consider, investments in a laptop computer and other necessary school supplies, not to mention the monthly and weekly bills for room and board. Financial aid is an extremely helpful tool for hopeful students who are willing and able to attend college yet cannot cover all the expenses that come with it. If you applied and qualified for any type of student loans, it is important to get organized and differentiate the expenses that financial aid covers—and those it should not. We’ve come up with a list of the most commonly encountered costs to help you answer this question!

Housing Costs

Financial aid can and should be used for the costs associated with room and board. If you’re in a dorm, that includes your meal plan and the cost per semester you are charged for on-campus housing. If you live off campus, this includes your rent, utilities, and grocery bills. Be aware that you may not receive the same amount of funding toward room and board if you live off campus. Keep in mind that furniture, decorations, or any nonessential housing costs should not be associated with financial aid funding, especially student loans. 

Educational Expenses

Anything pertaining to your schooling is an appropriate use of financial aid. School supplies, a computer, travel costs to and from campus, books, tuition, childcare expenses (if applicable), and tutoring are all reasonable purchases for a serious student. And if you decide to study abroad, it would be a good idea to meet with a financial advisor to see if any additional fees come along with that. Should you go abroad, don’t forget that you will have to account for any financial increases that come with living in another country.

Emergency Needs

Car troubles, health emergencies, and other unforeseen circumstances are always within the realm of possibility. That said, it may not be wise to use student loans on exorbitant emergency bills. Remember: loans have to be repaid—if you use your aid to pay for emergencies and end up needing to take out even more money, you will ultimately owe more money that will accrue interest over time. The more you borrow, the larger or more plentiful your payments will be after college.

Pro Tips

Make a budget.

There are plenty of templates online that can help you plan a monthly or weekly budget down to the dollar. Record what your monthly expenses are, how much financial aid you have coming in, and when your aid will be disbursed. When you see exactly what you have and what everything costs, you can plan accordingly. Budgeting could help you cut certain unnecessary expenses that you may not even realize are hurting you. It’s also great practice for life after you graduate. 

Getting College Credit for Life Experience You Already Have

Get a part-time job.

Schedule permitting, it would be extremely beneficial to have an income aside from student loans. Scholarships are wonderful, but a part-time job would also be a great way to cover some of your expenses. Whether you want some spending money to have dinner with friends or do something fun for the weekend, or if you want to have the option to pay off your loans more quickly, a part-time job can give you extra wiggle room in your budget. There might even be some opportunities for work right on campus!

Financial aid is incredibly helpful, but using student loans for expenses other than their intended purpose can put you in a tricky position down the road. While this list introduces some of the general principles for using your financial aid, know that you can always consult a financial advisor for answers to your questions and personalized guidance. Most likely, they will recommend that you use student loans conservatively—the less you spend now, the better off you’ll be when the time comes to pay them back!

More Helpful Guides:

Should You Go to Grad School Right After Undergrad?

Ways to Afford Grad School as an Adult Student

Should I Enroll as a Part-Time or Full-Time Student

Get our weekly advice

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