College Financial Aid and COVID-19

College Financial Aid and COVID-19

COVID-19 has spread throughout the country and impacted every aspect of our daily life. While many people have trouble just trying to remember what day it is, time seems to fly by for others. New information comes out in a rapid-fire manner, and it can be hard to try to assimilate and understand it all.

Change is happening very quickly in the college world as well. Academic terms ended abruptly this year and may not start up again at some colleges until January 2021. Current college students are reassessing their options for next year, while high school students suddenly find themselves wondering whether they will be able to afford to attend college at all. Since so many answers rely wholly on whether or not sufficient financial aid will be available, it is imperative that students keep updated on this topic in general and at their specific colleges. Here are some tips and insights on college admissions and financial aid as of mid-April 2020:

• Testing: Some colleges are waiving the SAT/ACT testing requirement completely, and most in-person tests were cancelled completely for the foreseeable future due to “stay at home” requirements. However, there has also been movement toward online college admissions testing, so aspiring college students need to watch their prospective college websites very closely to determine their specific testing requirements.

• Financial Aid Appeals: High school students who have already committed to a college may find themselves in a position where the financial aid package they accepted may no longer be sufficient to meet their vastly changed financial status. A recent College Coach podcast unveils strategies for appealing your financial aid award letter. To listen to the show, say, “Alexa, play ‘Getting In: A College Coach Conversation.’”

• Current College Students: Current students affected by the pandemic should contact their college regarding the availability of special funds for emergency aid based on money the schools are receiving through the CARES Act. Some colleges are also freezing tuition for the next academic year. Specific colleges are also providing refunds for room and board to those students forced to leave campus due to Coronavirus restrictions.

• Scholarships: These could be extremely important in bridging the financial gap this year. Be extremely vigilant about scholarship opportunities and application deadlines. Some sponsors have extended their timeframes, so you may still be eligible to apply for those where the original deadlines have passed.

• Student Loans: Although it might not feel real without the pomp and circumstance, many college students became graduates overnight. For them and past graduates, the biggest issue is repaying student loans. While federal student loans have some repayment flexibility based on recent legislation, private student loans could be an entirely different story. Always keep in touch with your loan servicers for the most recent information pertaining to your specific situation. Those graduates lucky enough to be gainfully employed should be aware that a tax break for employer-paid student loan contributions was also included in the COVID Relief Bill.

Filing the FAFSA in October of this year will be severely impacted by the financial implications of the pandemic. The FAFSA for 2021-22 will use financial information from your 2019 tax returns, which is obviously before the pandemic began to wreak havoc on families. This year’s financial situation will look vastly different for most families, so keep all documentation regarding your income status this year. You will need to submit it to colleges separately to make your case for financial aid.

College financial aid could change rapidly in the months ahead. Current high school seniors and juniors may be forced to seriously rethink their college plans, but I strongly advise you not to give up hope completely. Keep in touch and be on the lookout for new information, as options that are simply not available now could open up at any time. Colleges are rethinking their entire approach and may even be willing to waive application fees and lower deposits. Be sure to look for my weekly JustAskJodi emails and tune in for my weekly Twitter chat at #CollegeCash every Thursday at 5pm Pacific/8pm Eastern for the latest updates. Stay safe.