Should I Crowdfund My College Tuition?

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Is crowdfunding a viable option to pay your tuition?


Here’s a scenario: You’ve gotten accepted to your top-choice school and received some financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, and student loans. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to cover all your college expenses--and you don’t want to take out more loans or put anything on a credit card. You’ve negotiated with the financial aid office and maxed out what’s available, and the deadline has passed to apply for additional scholarships. With your expected course load, you don’t have enough hours to take on a part-time job or internship to make ends meet.


Should you try a crowdfunding campaign?


In a recent How I Paid for College profile, Sarah Lawrence alum Thomas Septa successfully used crowdfunding as a one-time solution, creating a campaign to cover expenses for his sophomore year after his family cut off support. His campaign was fully funded within two days, and he was able to stay at school—and then worked with the Sarah Lawrence financial aid office to cover expenses for his junior and senior years, based on his new circumstances.   


Because it’s a new means of paying for school, with rules and etiquette still being established, crowdfunding should be used sparingly and conscientiously.


If you’re considering crowdfunding for college, let’s go over a few best practices and guidelines.


Who Should Crowdfund for College?


“Crowdfunding can work for some people, if you have a compelling story,” says Kathy Ruby, director of college finance at College Coach. As you look at your circumstances and think about crafting your crowdfunding campaign, consider the urgency of your request, how your story is both unique and relatable, and whether you’ve maximized all other funding options.


In addition to your personal story, you’ll also want to explicitly outline how you’ll be using the money you raise. For example, if you’re crowdfunding for tuition, textbooks, and your meal plan, say that outright. You can even offer to check in with milestones during the specific funded period (e.g., “Just completed my mid-terms!”) to show your donors how their money is being put to work.     


Speaking of donors, before launching a crowdfunding campaign, you’ll also want to consider your personal network. Will your friends, family, and social media network be willing to get the word out, donate, and share your campaign? Are you willing to do the initial legwork to promote your campaign and get it in front of as many people as possible? You can craft the most compelling campaign possible, but if no one sees it, you may as well have not crowdfunded at all.


Which Crowdfunding Site Should You Use?


Before choosing your crowdfunding site, do some digging to see the rules that apply. Some crowdfunding sites will only support creative or entrepreneurial endeavors, so make sure that your site allows personal fundraising. (You don’t want to take the time to create a campaign only to have it be shut down!)


Additionally, you’ll also want to know what fees apply to your campaign, as many crowdsourcing sites take a cut of what you fundraise. If money is particularly tight, you may want to set a crowdfunding goal that includes what the anticipated fees will be, so that all bases are covered.


When it Comes to Crowdfunding, What’s Good Etiquette?


In a 2016 CBC interview, Darryl Hatton, founder of FundRazr, a crowdfunding platform, said college crowdfunding success stories are “not uncommon, because it’s about friends taking care of each other when they’ve encountered some sort of bump in the road.”


Hatton noted that critical emergencies (e.g., a drastic change in financial circumstances, an accident, a sudden illness) tend to be the most successful crowdfunding campaigns, and cautioned students about real marketplace fatigue against campaigns that don’t have that immediate need or urgency. Etiquette for crowdfunding, then, becomes more about the elements of your story and the severity of need, and not necessarily about the ask itself.


At their origin, crowdfunding campaigns were about helping people in crisis, and not for more universal wish lists. So, for example, if you’ve gotten into a more affordable college, but would rather go to the moonshot dream school that’s unaffordable, that may not necessarily make the most compelling story or successful campaign.


Lastly, tailor your ask appropriately. Use crowdfunding as one of several sources to cover college costs, and not the one and only source in your paying for college plan. Tell your story, ask for help, and share your education and career goals—show your network how you’ll give them a good return on their investment.  

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