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Guide to Emergency Grants for College Students

Guide to Emergency Grants for College Students
Rebecca Safier
Rebecca SafierUpdated December 13, 2022
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Running out of money as a college student can be stressful and difficult. According to a survey by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, 58% of university students were experiencing basic needs insecurity, including access to food and housing, in 2020. If you find yourself in need of assistance, you might be able to access emergency student grants to help you through the year. There are a number of different types of emergency grants for college students, from emergency food options to housing assistance to help with tuition costs.

What Are Emergency Grants for Students?

Emergency grants are funds for students with financial need to help them pay for tuition, food, housing, or other living expenses. They’re reserved for students who are facing financial hardship, whether due to job loss, unexpected medical bills, or another reason. Many colleges maintain emergency funds for students in need. If you run into financial hardship, reach out to your financial aid office to see if it can help. You might also find scholarships from organizations like UNCF or Scholarship America.

How Do Emergency Grants for Students Work?

The American Rescue Plan provided almost $40 billion in funding to colleges and universities to use on emergency grants for students. Each individual college is responsible for determining how to allocate the funds, but they’re required to spend at least half on student grants.The amount each college or university received was largely proportional to how many Pell Grant recipients it had. The Pell Grant is a federal grant for undergraduates with exceptional financial need. Colleges distribute these grants to qualifying students, who may use them on supplies, food, housing, healthcare, and childcare. Students in need might also apply for emergency grants from nonprofits or other organizations that provide emergency funding to students in need. Unlike loans, students do not have to pay back grants or scholarships. However, they may need to meet specific guidelines to qualify or spend the grant money on certain designated expenses.

Types of Emergency Grants for College Students

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education provided relief measures to students, including tuition credits and emergency grants. In addition to cash grants, here are some specific types of emergency grants you might be able to access. 

Emergency Food Options for Students

If you’re struggling with food insecurity, reach out to your school’s financial aid and student affairs offices to find out about your options. Some schools offer free meal plans, food pantries, or food vouchers. Along with food, school pantries may also provide cleaning and hygiene products. The Education Department also expanded benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in early 2021. You can use SNAP benefits to purchase eligible food at authorized food stores. Students who are enrolled at least half-time can access SNAP benefits if they: 
  • Are eligible to participate in a work-study program (state or federal) 
  • Have an expected family contribution of $0 in the current school year 

Housing Assistance for Students

If you can qualify for an emergency grant from your school, you might be able to use it on housing costs. It’s also worth reaching out to your school’s housing or student affairs office to find out about its options for housing assistance or an emergency residency program. Some schools set aside dorm rooms for students in crisis or allow vulnerable students to stay on campus during school breaks.If you’re a Pell Grant recipient, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is also temporarily providing a monthly discount on broadband internet service. You could receive a discount of:
  • Up to $50 per month on your broadband service and associated equipment rentals 
  • Up to $75 per month if your household is on qualifying Tribal lands
  • Up to $100 (one time) for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer (with a co-payment between $10 and $50)

Emergency Tuition Assistance

If you need help covering your tuition bill, your financial aid office might be able to help with an emergency grant. As mentioned, schools received billions in funding from the federal government to help out students with financial need. Some schools are also offering tuition refunds or credits for the years when classes moved online or were canceled due to the pandemic. Some schools might also adjust your financial aid award if you or your family experienced a loss of income or some other change in your financial circumstances since you submitted the FAFSA (learn more about how the FAFSA works in this guide).

Covid-19 Emergency Loans for Students

Schools might be able to help fill a gap in funding with an emergency student loan. Unlike emergency grants, loans need to be paid back, usually with interest. Loans might be available to students experiencing unexpected financial hardship. Emergency loans are often disbursed on a rapid schedule to meet an immediate need, but you might need to pay off the student loan quickly, as well. Your financial aid office can help you explore options, whether you can get an emergency loan from your school, an educational nonprofit, or federal aid programs. You might also consider a private student loan, which can often be processed and disbursed quickly.

The Takeaway

Financial insecurity can force students to withdraw from classes and leave school before finishing their degree. If you run into financial hardship, you might have options. The federal government has provided billions in funding to colleges and universities and instructed them to use at least half for emergency grants for students. Speak with your financial aid office to see what financial assistance it can offer. It’s also worth exploring scholarship and grant organizations to see what they provide for students who have run into financial hardship. From cash grants to dining hall vouchers to school food pantries, you might be able to find the support you need to finish out the school year.

3 Student Loan Tips

  1. Once the pandemic-related pause on federal student loan payments ends, going back to making payments may be hard on budgets. One solution is to refinance to a lower interest rate, longer loan term, or both, depending on your situation. (The tradeoff is that you’ll be forfeiting federal benefits such as repayment programs.) Find and compare your student loan refinance options.
  2. One pain-free way to pay down your student loan sooner: send in your tax refund to put against the principal balance. Since it’s money that has already been taken out of your pay, you won’t miss it.
  3. If you teach full-time for five complete and consecutive academic years in a low-income school, you may be eligible for federal student loan forgiveness.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much money are emergency grants for students?
What are emergency grants for college students?
How can you apply for emergency grants for students?
iStock/Xavier Lorenzo

About the Author

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier has nearly a decade of experience writing about personal finance. Formerly a senior writer with LendingTree and Student Loan Hero, she specializes in student loans, financial aid, and personal loans. She is certified as a student loan counselor with the National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC).
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