Applications for financial aid at UNC Chapel Hill alone are up about 15 percent over the last year.
"It's really not surprising," NCSU freshman Holly Sweeney said. "I got money, but I didn't get all the money I wanted. I still owe a pretty decent amount, maybe half at least."
Sweeney worked through high school, summer vacations and her mom got a second job to help pay for college. She said limited financial aid has affected her friends too.
"A lot of my friends have been staying in-state instead of going out-of-state because of the financial situation," she said.
However, student Amanda English said she did receive the financial aid she needed.
"But I was one of the lucky ones," English said. "A lot of people I know didn't get what they needed."
Officials at UNC Pembroke told Eyewitness News their requests were up 25 percent over the last year.
They said some who didn't get financial aid at first reapplied when a parent lost a job or took a pay cut.
"I've had to go back to work myself, because my husband's bonus has been cut," NCSU parent Jenny Farnham said.
She said she and her son would have to work to help pay for his classes at NC State.
"I realize that's reality and I appreciate the experience also," Jenny's son Scott Farnham said. "Any work experience will be good for me."
Experts said one thing families should do was apply for financial aid even if they didn't think they qualified and reapply if their financial situation changed for the worse.