Coronavirus and College

The pandemic has taken a toll on colleges — and on students and their families. Here are strategies to help high school juniors and seniors, current college students and recent college graduates make future plans in uncertain times.

It’s hard to think of a single aspect of life that hasn’t been affected by the current pandemic, and that includes planning for college. What is often a nerve-racking experience under normal circumstances, has become even more stressful given the current climate.

To help, TCU’s partner at Credit Union Student Choice offers advice for those navigating the college admissions process during the crisis.


FOR HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS

College visits and admitted student days were cancelled as campuses closed. Those relying on in-person visits to help decide which university to attend should seek alternative ways to evaluate options. For example, follow the colleges on social media, look for virtual college tours to give you a sense for the campus environment — and if you can, connect with current students willing to speak about their experiences.

Admitted students may have more time to make their college decisions as colleges are changing their deposit deadlines in light of all of the disruptions. You may have more time to decide where you’d like to go — at least a month extra in many cases.

ADVICE: 
If you haven’t committed to a college yet, you’ll probably want to wait until you understand how they are responding to the coronavirus events and until you have more information about your own personal situation. Keep track of new deadlines in a spreadsheet as you hear about them. Experts say we may see impacts of the coronavirus into the next academic year.

ADVICE:  
If you do plan to attend college in the fall, you should be aware and prepared for the possibility that you will not be on campus with business as usual. Do some extra due diligence about your university’s capacity to support online learning. You can find this information online (Google “[college name] online” and look for results from the official university .edu website) or by calling the admissions office. Ask about what portion of students take online courses in order to get a sense for the depth of experience. You can also look for professors at the college on Twitter, many of whom are sharing their experiences of transitioning courses online.

There is great economic uncertainty right now in the financial sector, and there is likely to be rising unemployment in some industries (e.g. service industries, small businesses, retail). Your family’s finances may well be impacted in the near term depending on your employment situation and where the money for college is coming from.

ADVICE:  
There is not yet official guidance from the federal government about how federal financial aid might be impacted by the economy. It’s likely that colleges’ financial realities will shift in light of other changes — meaning the money they have set aside for financial aid and scholarships could be impacted.

Even if your finances and employment are stable now, it’s possible your family’s financial situation may change or change again. If you do know of any concrete changes to your employment or income now which will impact your ability to pay, you should reach out to the financial aid offices at the colleges. This may take the form of a financial aid appeal.
 

FOR HIGH SCHOOL JUNIORS

College visits and admitted student days were cancelled as campuses closed. Those relying on in-person visits for more information should seek alternative ways to evaluate options. Many colleges are hosting virtual events and providing more information via their websites. Virtual college tours can provide a sense for the campus environment.

Testing dates have also been cancelled or delayed for the SAT and ACT, and AP tests.

ADVICE:  
Since students won’t have their scores until later in the cycle, they may be interested to explore test optional colleges (though applying test-optional is not always optimal).

Watch a video from the experts at College Coach about standardized testing and COVID-19.

Schools are closing nationally and there are big disruptions to coursework and extracurriculars as a result.

ADVICE:
Colleges know that this unprecedented situation will have lingering effects into the next application cycle. You most likely won’t be penalized for things that are not in your control. So focus on those things that are in your control, and find your opportunities for growth and development. As best you can, focus on your studies, on developing your personal interests and skills, and on any extracurricular activities that have not been curtailed. Find time for self-reflection. Those things will all help you when the time to apply does come.

College financial aid policies may be impacted as they face financial pressures from multiple angles, and it may mean they become less affordable.

ADVICE: 
Monitor the news from colleges you’re interested in in light of these possibilities. Don’t assume that scholarship data or net price calculator results from last year will apply. Ask the financial aid office to help you understand what financial aid will be available to you and be aware that the picture could change over the coming months.
 

FOR CURRENT COLLEGE STUDENTS

Your financial aid is not likely to be impacted for the remainder of the year. While usually universities need approval to convert programs to online and offer financial aid for those, that requirement has been waived for the government for now. There’s one exception: work-study may not be paid out if you are not working those hours.

ADVICE:
if you have questions about whether your eligibility for aid this semester is impacted, it is worth confirming with your financial aid office. Make sure you check on all forms of scholarships and aid.

Many campuses have sent students home and are offering pro-rated refunds of room and board.

ADVICE:
How much you’ll get, and how to claim it, will be college specific. See what your university says and follow closely for updates to their policies, as those are likely to evolve. For example, here is a round-up from Boston area colleges.

Students may have financial difficulties or lack a place to live if they are not able to leave campus.

ADVICE: 
If you need an exception or immediate help, reach out to your financial aid office. There may be emergency funds or small grants available (the government has authorized new funding), and many colleges are providing alternative options for those that can’t simply ‘go home.’ Also, how a college or university accommodates you now is a strong signal of how they support students generally.
 

FOR COLLEGE GRADUATES

Having trouble paying down student loans due to changes in the economy? You aren’t alone. The government has said that federal student loan interest is being waived — but it appears that the loan payment amount won’t change. You’ll simply be paying down the loan faster since your payments will go towards the principle.

ADVICE: 
If you’re unable to make your student loan payments now, you should probably make a call to your servicer to see what options you have under existing programs rather than waiting for new policies to go into effect. You may qualify for deferment or forbearance programs which pause your payments, or for income-based repayment plans which cap payments based on what salary you’re earning.
 

This article first appeared at Credit Union Student Choice.

 

Additional Resources


Credit Union Student Choice maintains a library of recorded webinars on topics including student loans, completing the FAFSA, deciphering award letters and more.

A List of Colleges’ Plans for Reopening in the Fall

Colleges and Universities Closed/Going Online for COVID-19 with information about colleges and university closures, including visits and information session information (crowdsourced by university administrators and admissions counselors)

Colleges That Have Changed Their Deposit Deadlines (crowdsourced by admissions counselors)

The National Association for College Admissions Counseling has a searchable table of college admissions information also.

Upcoming Virtual College Admissions Events from Colleges (crowdsourced by admissions counselors)

Virtual College Tours information (crowdsourced and using data from College Board)

Notes from current and prospective students on college visits and campuses, by college (crowdsourced and shared on Reddit)

Coronavirus and Forbearance Info for Students, Borrowers, and Parents: information for current borrowers from the Department of Education

FAQ from the NYTimes on everything money and coronavirus, including a full section on student loans.

Interactive map of colleges impacted by COVID-19 along with links, from our friends at Entangled Solutions, a higher education consultancy.

Readings on the Financial Implications of COVID-19: articles that address the impact of the pandemic on the higher education industry and colleges and universities, compiled by Kevin McClure, Associate Prof. of Higher Education at UNC-Wilmington

How to Make College Decisions When Campuses Are Closed (NYTimes)

The COVID College Choice: How To Pick A College During A Global Pandemic (Forbes)