Can You Use Financial Aid to Purchase a Computer

August 13, 2012

When students receive grant, scholarship and loan money, it's easy to go overboard thinking that you have a surplus of cash, while forgetting about the end of the semester. In addition, much of scholarship money and grant money is supposed to strictly be for education, though the enforcement of this rule is completely irrelevant, as there isn't a real way to check how students use the money to pay for "living expenses" or "school supplies." However, scholarships and grant money will first be paid to your college, which will pay off your tuition and fees first, then give you the excess amount, or what's left over. From here, your financial aid is yours to spend how you like, but you should understand a few things about buying a computer with financial aid and what the best ways are to minimize spending so you don't blow through your college fund in one month.

Technically, computers do fall under the term "school supplies," which is used in most financial aid award letters to describe anything that you need to complete your tasks for school. Since much of what students write and study requires an Internet connection and word processing, computers are a necessity. However, there are better choices than just going to the big box store and purchasing a brand new laptop for $700. You may want something fancy, but it may not be practical for your budget. Here's some things to think about.

Per Month Budget

Do you know what your bills, rent, college costs and other living expenses add up to? Plan for the essentials on a month to month basis and see how much you have left over. If you are able to pay all of your bills and have a surplus of $500 or more per month, then it's possible to purchase a smaller computer. There are plenty of desktops, latops and netbooks with newer processors and plenty of memory with a low price tag that fall below $500.

Computer Labs

How many computer labs are available on campus? If you can find an area on campus that always has a free computer available and provides all the necessary processing tools, then it may be worth it to just use the computer lab for as long as you can without purchasing a computer. This way you can save money to purchase a computer that you'll really like after saving up, or you can continue to use computer lab computers or even rent a laptop from your school. Just make sure that the rental fee is free or extremely low. Usually libraries will allow you to check out a laptop if you're a student for free.

Shopping for Deals

Going online is probably the best way to find deals on computers. You can go to stores like Walmart.com or Bestbuy.com and organize your searches by price, then narrow down by memory and processor. Remember that you want a newer computer with good reviews but doesn't necessarily have to be overpowered. The latest processors currently are i5 or i7, but i3 will allow you to work without issues and browse online. It's only an issue if you need a performance computer, such as with graphic art or music production majors. In that case, you may really need a good computer with top memory and processing capability, in addition to an amazing graphics card. Typically these computers are between $800 (low end) and $2,000, and it all depends on what kind of processor, how much memory and what kind of graphics card you need.

Part Time and Weekend Jobs

Even with school, a part time or weekend job can really help you save for things like computers. If you can find a part time job making $200 to $300 a week, you'll be able to afford a nice computer in less than two months, and even if you make less than $200, you may be able to save through a semester and get something for next semester. It's worth the trouble if you really need an exceptional computer to work on. A brand new computer can last you several years.

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