For most college students the Estimated Cost of Attendance functions as a cap on student aid.
In some cases, the Estimated Cost of Attendance might be less than the actual cost of going to school.
This situation makes paying for college far more difficult. While there are alternative loans that borrowers can pursue, the best option is usually to request an adjustment to the estimated cost of attendance.
Typical student concerns about the Estimated Cost of Attendance
Here is a reader email that is a fairly typical estimated cost of attendance issue:
Hello and thank you for offering this service. I’ve recently been accepted into a graduate program at Cal State Stanislaus. The only problem is that the program is in San Francisco, but they calculate the COA for Turlock, CA where the campus is located. As such, they estimate the COA at $42,392 per year. Tuition alone is $24,500, which would leave me with $17,892 for the entire year. Rent alone would gobble up AT LEAST about $12K, leaving me with $6,000 ($500 per month) towards expenses like food and gas. That’s obviously not going to be enough.
What loans can I apply for that aren’t tied to the COA? I’ve applied for a scholarship, but that would only reduce the COA, not add to the amount of money that I will live off of.
Loans not tied to Cost of Attendance
First, we will directly answer your question, but please be sure to read the entire response.
Student loans, by definition, are based upon the cost of attendance. If you borrow money beyond the cost of attendance the loan is not technically a student loan and there are major legal implications. The short version: If you took out a loan in excess of the COA, you couldn’t take the student loan interest deduction when you are in repayment, and the loan would not have nearly the same bankruptcy limitations of student loans… meaning you would have a much higher interest rate.
As a college student with no income (we assume no income based on the fact that you are looking to borrow more than the COA), getting a loan that is not a student loan will be a long shot. What you will be looking for is called a personal loan. There are many lenders that offer personal loans, but this is dangerous territory. Some offer huge interest rates at credit card levels… or even higher.
Fortunately, it is also possible to have the cost of attendance adjusted.
Borrowing above the Cost of Attendance
The cost of attendance is often a fairly conservative estimate, meaning that there is a lot of breathing room between what a typical student actually needs to borrow and the cost of attendance. If you are concerned that you will need more than the COA, it should be a red flag. However, the cost of attendance estimation isn’t always accurate.
The explanation that you are living in a different and more expensive city could explain part of it, but this problem would likely apply to everyone in the program. What have other students done about this issue? This might be a question to address with your financial aid office.
Borrowing more money should always be a last resort.
San Francisco is a very expensive place to live. Is getting a roommate a possibility? What about living further away from campus and taking the BART (public transportation) to school?
Another thing to consider is finding part-time work while you are in school. Obviously, it is a large time commitment, but the money you make at your job can be spent towards your living expenses and this income would not count against the Cost of Attendance.
Raising the Estimated Cost of Attendance
At many schools, the office of financial aid will consider adjusting the estimated cost of attendance. Here is an example of an estimated cost of attendance adjustment request page.
If the request is granted, students can typically borrow additional student aid to pay for school.
Even if the request is granted, students should use extreme caution with the additional borrowing. Before moving forward, take a moment to evaluate other options and determine whether or not the degree is worth the high price.
Sherpa Tip: Under federal law, the cost of attendance should be adjusted for students with costs related to a disability or dependent care costs.
The Bottom Line
$40,000 is a lot of money to borrow for one year of school. If your college is telling you that it should cost no more than $42,392, you should be concerned if you can’t make that budget work.
Either the school has made an error that should be fixed, or you have.
While personal loans do exist and they would not count against the Cost of Attendance, this is an expensive solution to a problem that can likely be solved via other means.