First of all, I want to say congratulations to the college and high school classes of 2020! Although this was most certainly not the graduation celebration you envisioned, you are still entitled to recognize the fact that your hard work has paid off. You now have some decisions to make about the next steps on your life path, although that process will probably be a bit more difficult as repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic unceasingly wind their way through society.
If it is any consolation at all, you are not alone in being faced with tough decisions. Everyone, from government leaders and business executives, to university presidents and families with students, are trying to make decisions about the best way to proceed in these very uncertain times. Here are some things we know for certain at this point:
• Decision Day for High School Seniors: In most years, College Decision Day is May 1. By this time, students usually have their college attendance plans well in hand and have paid a deposit to their selected school. But, 2020 is not most years. According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), “many schools have changed their deadline to accommodate economic challenges deriving from COVID-19.” Adding to the confusion is the fact that some colleges have reconsidered their applicant list, and may even offer admission to those who were previously declined. Some colleges still have financial aid opportunities available for the fall, and student loan interest rates for new borrowers have been reduced as well. If you have not already talked to the admissions office about your individual situation, now is the time to do so.
• Families Have Decisions to Make: Families do have to take a concentrated look at their current and future financial potential to determine if college is in the cards as originally envisioned. This may require them to talk directly to financial aid officials and provide documentation of their current circumstances to determine if more aid is available. Students may have to rethink their vision of a perfect college or geographic location based on realigned financial information.
• Colleges Have Decisions to Make: Most colleges are frantically trying to determine their approach for the fall semester. California State University, which is the nation’s largest four-year public university system, has already announced that it will conduct most of its classes online, while others are working to re-envision the idea of campus life in light of social distancing considerations. The new college experience might include reconfigured classroom settings, fever checks at building entrances, face mask requirements in public places, or a quarantine dorm for infected classmates.
• Decisions Start for Rising Seniors: High school students who will be seniors in the fall may have to take a whole new approach to deciding where they will attend college in the fall of 2021. There might be different ways to take admission tests, visit college campuses and chat with admissions or financial aid representatives. As of now, the timeframe for completing the FAFSA for the 2021-22 college year will still be live online October 1. Make sure you complete your 2019 federal income tax returns, and keep track of all pertinent financial documentation.
Students with financial concerns will also have to make better decisions about the search for college scholarships to help make up for any financial shortfalls. Some scholarship deadlines have been extended, and a good number of late deadline scholarships are still available. Beginning in June, we will offer the CFAA Scholarship Program to help students locate and organize scholarship opportunities.
CFAA will also continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as the financial aid picture becomes clearer over the coming months. Options that are simply not available now could open up at any time. High school students graduating in 2021 are already signing up to receive in-depth and personalized financial aid counseling to help clarify their college search. For ongoing information, 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.