Navigating College Planning During the Coronavirus Pandemic
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. Preparing for college can be a stressful time under normal circumstances, and we understand that the current climate can add even more stress for students and families. To help, our partners at Edmit have compiled suggestions for those planning for the future in these uncertain times.
College visits and admitted student days are being cancelled as campuses close.
Advice: If you were relying on those to help you make your decision, you should seek alternative ways to evaluate your options. Follow the colleges on your list 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 at a college, they are likely to be home and willing to speak with you 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 (see below). 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 that 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.
College visits and admissions events are being cancelled as campuses close.
Advice: If you are a high school junior and you were considering visiting campuses in the coming months, seek alternative ways to evaluate your options. Colleges are hosting virtual events (see below for a list) and providing more information via their websites. Virtual college tours can give you a sense for the campus environment - and if you can connect with current students at a college, they are likely to be home and willing to speak with you about their experiences.
Testing dates have been cancelled or delayed for the SAT (live status page) and ACT (live status page). AP tests, make-up tests, and future dates may be impacted.
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 eventually come.
College financial aid policies may be impacted. As noted above, colleges will be facing financial pressures from multiple angles. This may mean they become less affordable - and many might find themselves on shaky financial footing.
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 are in need of 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 for this), and many colleges are providing alternative options for those that can’t simply ‘go home.’ And by the way - 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.
If you have a Student Choice loan through your credit union:
University Accounting Service (UAS) is the loan servicer for your account and provides 24/7 access to view your loan information and make payments at www.uasecho.com. (Payments by mail should be sent to University Accounting Service, PO Box 5865, Carol Stream, IL 60197-5865.)
If you have additional questions, or are experiencing difficulties at this time and need to discuss repayment options to keep your account in good standing, please call 800-723-2210 to speak with a servicing agent.
Student Choice maintains a library of recorded webinars on topics including student loans, completing the FAFSA, deciphering award letters, and more. While the news continues to shift regarding changes to higher education in the coming year and beyond, you can find basic information in these presentations.
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