students with their backs towards us, linking arms


For Students

How to Get Money

Applying for financial aid
  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form if you’re a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. For priority consideration, submit your application between October 1 and June 30 before you begin school. Any corrections must be submitted by mid-September. You will need to refile the FAFSA for each year you are enrolled in college.
  • See if your college or states runs an emergency aid program, which may be listed here or on your college’s webpage. If you do not find the information or an application for aid, a quick Google search for “emergency aid” or “emergency fund” and your college's name. 
  • You can also connect with the Dean of Students’ or financial aid office to inquire about aid available for food, housing, technology, and other basic needs. Don’t be afraid to tell them you need assistance.
  • If you need to appeal your financial aid package due to a change in your circumstances that is not represented in your taxes or the income you used on the FAFSA or other financial aid application, the free templates from SwiftStudent can help you with this process and potentially obtain more funding.
  • Consider applying for scholarships and get support from your college library or writing center to submit a strong essay, if needed.
  • If you currently have a job, ask your employer if they offer educational assistance. Some employers also help with college costs, such as Walmart, Starbucks, Chipotle, or Target.
Filing taxes
  • If you’re a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you should file your taxes each year by the deadline (generally in mid-April). You may be eligible for thousands of dollars in tax benefits available to students and people with low incomes. Even if you’re not required to file, you could benefit financially from filing and potentially get a refund. 

  • You can file taxes online for free using the IRS Free File tool, or use this tool to find free, local, in-person help with filing taxes. 

  • As a college student, you may be eligible for a significant tax return refund, including up to $2,500 for your college expenses. 

  • Even if you missed this year’s federal tax filing deadline, you can still file your taxes. There is no penalty for filing late if you are owed a refund, and many college students qualify for a refund. 

  • The IRS offers an Interactive Tax Assistant that helps you identify if you qualify for tax benefits for education.

  • If you have a bank account, select direct deposit to receive your tax refund; this is the fastest and most reliable and secure method of receiving your refund. Avoid gimmicks like gift cards which often come with fees. Setting up a checking account for yourself is a good idea if you have not done so already. 

  • Filing taxes also makes it easier to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) because you can automatically import all your financial information. This may help you get additional financial aid to pay for basic needs such as food and housing. 

Finding work
  • Working part-time might help supplement your income. But don’t be afraid to focus on your studies or borrow to afford critical expenses. Juggling too much work and school could make it harder to stay enrolled and graduate. 

  • Check with your financial aid office to see if you are eligible to participate in work-study and if any openings are available. Receiving work-study may also help you secure other assistance, such as food benefits (SNAP). 

  • Check with your college’s career services office to get job leads or paid internship opportunities. Faculty and classmates may also have ideas. 

  • Check online employment hubs that house information about current job openings near you or remote work opportunities. 

  • Many companies conduct virtual interviews rather than meeting in person. Consider these tips for a successful interview by phone, or video, recorded video, or getting to the second round

  • Your college may have a “career closet” offering free business attire and accessories for an interview. You can also search this map of organizations that can help you make a good first impression.  

  • If you are laid off from a job, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance. You can research the requirements and file a claim with your state’s unemployment agency. If you need help, connect with your college’s student support services office, or do a quick web search for assistance available in your area. If approved, you may receive a temporary wage replacement that is less than what you would normally be paid. 

Setting up a bank account
  • The easiest way to receive and send money is with a bank account (sometimes called a “checking” or “debit” account). Colleges and universities can send any extra financial aid to these accounts. 

  • Look for bank accounts without monthly fees or that let you get money from local ATMs without racking up extra fees. 

  • If your college offers you a debit or credit card, make sure to ask about any fees. The federal government has previously found that some colleges offer cards to students that have excessive fees. It may be a better idea to set up a bank account on your own, rather than through your college. 

How to Reduce Your Bills

Paying your credit card, utility, and other bills
  • Call anyone you owe money to (or the companies that send you bills) to see if you can get your payments stopped or reduced. Be sure to tell them that you are a college student and of any circumstances that limit your ability to pay. 
  • Contact your utility companies (e.g. electric, gas, water, garbage/recycling) to inquire about any savings or discount programs, which may vary by municipality or state. Once you sign up for their program, you may be eligible to get subsidies to pay for other bills. 
  • For help during or after an inclement weather disaster, your locality or state may offer free assistance. Apply as soon as you learn about it, and save any documentation, as resources may be limited. 
  • Apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) which helps afford energy costs, including electricity for heating and cooling. 
Getting internet and assistance with technology
  • Visit to see if you qualify for a high-speed internet plan for no more than $30 per month or a one-time discount to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet. All students who receive a Pell Grant, SNAP, WIC, or TANF will qualify, as will all households making less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.
  • Check with your college’s IT department to learn about free or discounted educational software.
  • Check out offers for discounted, refurbished computers and laptops through programs like Notebooks for Students, PCs for People, and Jump On.
Buying textbooks and supplies
  • Consider renting, or buying used copies, of any textbooks. Or, look for better prices or discounts online. The bookstore at your college may match the price you find online or offer other good deals. 
  • You can also check out campus book rental-specialized websites or ask your classmates about how they obtained a textbook for a discounted price. 
  • Check with your campus library to see if they have free access to electronic or printed versions of required textbooks. 
  • Look at the course syllabus or ask your professor/teacher about cheaper alternatives to required textbooks. 
Affording groceries or food
  • Check your college’s website and student portal for any support options on campus, such as a food pantry. 
  • If your college has a food pantry, connect with them to learn about their schedule and food distribution options. Some institutions may offer takeout or food delivery.
  • You could also find other food providers in your area by calling 1 (800) 5-HUNGRY or 1 (877) 8-HAMBRE (for Spanish), visiting, or contacting them via text using your zip code at 1 (800) 548-6479.
  • If you have access to a local off-campus food pantry, they may be able to supplement what you receive from an on-campus pantry.
  • Apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as “food stamps.” If you’re enrolled in college at least half-time, you will need to meet income limits and be either (1) working an average of 20 hours per week or more or (2) exempt from those work requirements by receiving work-study, having a dependent child, or other exemptions. If you aren’t sure whether you’re eligible for work-study, contact your financial aid office. 
  • SNAP will give you an electronic benefit card that you can use at most grocery stores just like a debit card. 
  • Your state has an online SNAP application and assistance hotline or maybe even a phone app to facilitate this process. If you find you need additional guidance with the application process, there may be a contact at your college (e.g., basic needs coordinator), a local nonprofit, or even a legal aid organization that can assist. However, please note that some of these organizations may not understand the student rules for SNAP. 
  • If you have a permanent address, be sure to review the letters that you receive about SNAP to find the requirements that you need to meet (e.g., submitting information) to continue to receive your benefits.
  • If you do not have a permanent residence, contact the local assistance office to discuss a plan and update your information to keep your benefits and inquire with temples or nonprofit organizations that may offer free mailbox services.
  • Find other free and low-cost emergency food aid programs here, or use Google’s locator tool for food assistance near you.
Managing student loans
  • If you or your family or friends are currently paying back federal student loans, consider applying for income-driven repayment, which will limit your monthly loan payment to no more than 10% of your income. 
  • Never pay for student loan advice or assistance. All questions can be answered for free on the web or through student loan servicers. Companies that charge for student loan help are usually scams.  
  • If you work for a federal, state, or local agency, or a non-profit organization (such as a 501(c)(3), you may qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness and could get your loans forgiven after 10 years of service.  
  • Unfortunately, some older federal student loans that are owned by private and commercial lenders, and all private student loans, are not eligible for most federal benefits. Borrowers who have Federal Family Education Loans and/or Perkins Loans should consider consolidating their loans into Direct Loans to obtain all of the benefits they’re eligible for. 

Finding a Place to Live

Finding off-campus housing
  • Some colleges help students find affordable off-campus housing or partner with community organizations to make options available for students. Connect with student support services, or check out the off-campus housing options listings, at your college to get more details. 
  • Websites like PadMapper allow you to search for housing options based on location, such as being close to campus or transit.
  • If you have been involved in the foster care system, you may be eligible for additional financial support and services. Look up and contact the “Chafee Coordinator” in your state. Foster youth might also qualify for support from the Rapid Response program. 
  • You may be eligible for public housing assistance. Check the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) website for information on your local housing authority and eligibility for assistance. 
  • Social service and nonprofit organizations, like United Way, and YMCA or YWCA, may be able to assist with local temporary housing when colleges are on break. 
  • If you find yourself in a situation where you have to sleep outside, protect yourself from extreme heat and cold. There may be centers with air conditioning, or heating, open to everyone during periods of extreme weather.  
Paying for rent or housing
  • Local rental assistance may be available, especially if you live in or near a city. You and your family may be eligible if you apply and submit all required documentation. If you need help with the application process, you can connect with your local free legal aid nonprofit to obtain tips and pointers. 
  • Contact your financial aid office if you are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. They may be able to adjust your financial aid eligibility or tell you about emergency assistance programs that can help you afford the cost of housing.
On-campus housing
  • If you want to live on-campus, and your college has on-campus housing, look for resources on the housing page that refer to the cost. If there is contact information, reach out to the housing office about affordable options that might be available. 
  • If you are living on-campus and need a place to stay between terms – such as during a holiday break or summer period – ask your college if they have these options. Many colleges keep some living spaces open between academic terms. It may require you to temporarily relocate to a different location. 

Protecting Your Health

Obtaining health care
  • Find low-cost, in-person care at your closest free clinic or community health center. They offer services on a sliding fee basis based on your income. Assistance can range from primary care to mental health care, dental, and OB/GYN and is available to everyone, including the uninsured and/or undocumented.
  • Many health care providers offer virtual or phone consultations, which may be available at a discounted rate.
  • If you cannot get your medicine prescription in person, check with your pharmacy to see if they have free delivery or shipment services.
Getting health insurance
  • The most important way to reduce your health care expenses is to get insured. Most U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible for very affordable (and potentially free) health insurance coverage. Visit to learn more about your options. 
  • Your college may also offer a health insurance plan to students. If the cost is too high for your budget, compare it with your coverage options at
  • If your income or household changes and you have coverage through the Marketplace, update the information online or call to get instructions on how to adjust your plan. By doing this, you may save money or even become eligible for free health insurance through Medicaid. 
  • If you are uninsured, are a citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR), and meet the income eligibility criteria, you (and your children, if applicable) may be eligible for free health insurance under Medicaid. Your local hospital and health center may also provide help with the application, though this normally occurs in person. 
  • In most states, children in families with income up to $50,000 are eligible for health care coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), even if the parent is not eligible—and in some states, the threshold is even higher. 
  • If you are an international student and need health insurance, contact the International Student Office at your college or explore plans through companies like to obtain coverage. 
  • If you are undocumented or are waiting for your healthcare plan coverage’s approval, contact a local health community center to receive care.
Supporting your mental health
  • Check if your college offers on-campus mental health services for students.
  • Many in-person support groups offer support online. For example, search for an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous virtual group.
  • Check out this support text line for students of color. Text STEVE to 741741.
  • See these additional recommendations to help you manage stress and anxiety. Active Minds provides exercises to integrate in your daily life.
  • Care for your anxiety and use virtual relaxation and stress relief tools and guides. For example, check out the Calm app, this relaxation room, or the Jed Foundation’s mental health resource center.
  • It is important to find therapists and healthcare professionals that get you. This directory of therapists allows you to filter specialists according to your specific identity, immigration status and other needs so you can access the right care.
  • In a domestic violence situation, connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7/365 to obtain help by chat at @ndvh on Twitter or by calling 1 (800) 799-7233.
Getting vaccinated
  • Your college may vaccinations against common illnesses, including COVID-19. You can learn more about how or when a vaccine mandate may be enforced by visiting your college’s website. 
  • During the pandemic, most testing and vaccinations for COVID-19 were free, but now costs depend on your insurance coverage. Speak with your doctor or insurance provider to learn more. 

Caring for a Child

Supporting their basic needs
  • Approximately 1 in 5 students in college are raising a child while going to school. You are not alone, and we are so excited that you’re pursuing higher education.
  • If you don’t make much money, or are not currently working, but have children who are 18 years of age or younger, apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. This program provides cash and services to parents who meet the criteria. Some colleges/universities, as well as nonprofits, will help you apply for TANF.  
  • Apply for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which can help you get money for food, health care, and breastfeeding/infant formula. 
  • Food is available for your children. States continue to work to provide meals to students who participate in the free or reduced-price meals program. To find the closest locations near you, use the meal site finder
  • The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is a federally funded, state-administered program. SFSP reimburses program operators who serve free healthy meals and snacks to children and teens in low-income areas. 
  • If you need help with school supplies, contact your nearest United Way and ask about their school supply drives. Operation Homefront provides military families with school supplies and clothing. 
  • If you need help to manage custody or visitation arrangements, you may be able to get free assistance through local legal aid organizations.
Getting parenting support
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, many hospitals and clinics offer telehealth appointments. You can also access online streaming birth classes
  • If you need assistance with baby supplies, connect with your local diaper bank and maternity care nonprofit to access free or low-cost baby gear and clothing. 
  • Consider streaming bedtime stories from YouTube or your local or regional library to bring variety into your child’s routine. 
Finding childcare
  • Check to see if your college offers child care on-campus or partners with local child care providers. You may be eligible for free or discounted child care services, but there may be a waitlist. 
  • The federal government provides funding for many colleges to offer child care through the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program. If your college doesn’t have a CCAMPIS grant, encourage them to apply for one. 
  • Use these links to see if your state offers child care resources or subsidies for child care. 
  • The YMCA also offers free emergency daycare services for frontline and essential workers, use this locator map to find the nearest site in your area. 
  • Consider looking into YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, 4-H Council, Girls-Inc, Camp Fire USA, and After School All Stars for after-school activities that your children can enjoy. 

Other Resources

More Ways to Access Support

For College Leaders and Governing Boards, Faculty, and Staff

Documenting the Problem
  • We know that all types of students at all types of colleges are experiencing basic needs insecurity, but many systemically marginalized students are experiencing particularly severe challenges. 

  • Having statistics on the prevalence of student basic needs security for your specific college (and/or state) will focus your campus conversations, increase awareness, and unlock action to help students. 

  • To document the prevalence of basic needs insecurity on your campus, consider regularly fielding a student basic needs survey—and measure progress. With every level of our Hope Impact Partnerships (HIP) program, we will help you field a comprehensive assessment of the basic needs of your students. 

  • If your state has not conducted a statewide survey of student basic needs, consider creating or joining an advocacy effort to request one. We are here to help. States like New Mexico and Washington State, and the community colleges in California, have conducted statewide surveys that have generated systemic policy change. These surveys can often be disaggregated by individual colleges. 

Finding Funding
  • A critical part of supporting students’ basic needs is braiding together funding to sustain and expand the work. This can come from federal, state, or local governments, private donors and philanthropy, institutional funding, and other sources. 

  • Check out this federal funding guide on a few key grant programs that support comprehensive approaches to basic needs, on-campus child care, and mental health services. The guide also touches on how federal “earmarks” can be used to direct additional funding for valuable projects on campus, including basic needs. 

  • Ask your college or university leadership and/or governing board about how they’re investing in student basic needs.  

  • Participate in efforts to ask for additional federal, state, and local funding for basic needs. If your college has a government affairs office or staff, reach out to them to find out ways you can support timely funding requests to support basic needs. 

Figuring Out What Works
  • It can be challenging to determine how to help students with basic needs security at your college. In part because this movement is still relatively new, the evidence on various interventions is still emerging

Putting it in the Classroom
  • Remember that students are most likely to reach out to people they know when they’re struggling with basic needs. That means that faculty and staff are at the front lines of student basic needs security. 

  • Consider adding a basic needs security statement on course syllabi. This can be done on a instructor-by-instructor basis, or coordinated and led at the campus-level in partnership with faculty.  

Push for Systemic Policy Change
  • Colleges are more powerful when they join forces with other institutions of higher education, advocates, and practitioners. Look for coalitions on student basic needs working in your state or region. 

  • Check out our Policy & Advocacy page for more information on what The Hope Center is lifting and elevating.  

Supporting Mental Health
  • Mental health is a student basic need. Additionally, students who are experiencing basic needs insecurity are more likely to experience mental health challenges. These issues are interconnected. Not having enough to eat or a safe place to live can exacerbate anxiety, depression, and other conditions. 

  • This review study provides a comprehensive overview of effective public health interventions for improving college student mental health. 

  • Check out our guide for What Works for Improving Mental Health in Higher Education (2023), produced in partnership with the American Council on Education & Healthy Minds Network. 

  • Check out this Guiding Frameworks for Postsecondary Mental Health (2023), produced with support from The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in partnership with the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. 

  • Check out Making the Case of Investments in Postsecondary Mental Health (2023), produced with support from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in partnership with the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. 

  • Check out Trauma-Informed Approach and Practices in Higher Education (2023), produced with support from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in partnership with the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. 

Resource Library
  • This research study (September 2023) on the design of text messages related to food insecurity. 

  • This implementation guide on addressing food insecurity in Arkansas (July 2023), which speaks to using food pantries as a way to connect students to other benefits. 

  • This case study (August 2023) on the implementation of emergency aid programs in West Texas. 

  • This research study from The Hope Center on basic needs hubs (July 2023). 

  • This research study (February 2023) on the impact of providing meal vouchers to community college students. 

  • This implementation rubric (January 2023) from Education Northwest and the ECMC Foundation on ways that college can implement basic needs services. 

  • This research scan in Public Health Nutrition (November 2022) on ways for campuses to adopt a “health equity framework” to support food security. 

  • This guide from Education Commission on the States (May 2022) on community college approaches to student supports. 

  • This article for trustees (September 2023) on ways that campuses can support student basic needs.