COVID-19’s Impact on College Students This Fall

COVID-19’s Impact on College Students This Fall

We looked at the kinds of challenges and changes that entering freshmen and current college students may face this fall.

Here’s what we found.

All schools that return to on-campus learning will have new procedures in place for keeping students and staff healthy.

That includes whatever the state mandates for the number of students allowed in buildings, mask use, how far apart they can sit, where they can eat, handwashing routines, changes in how clubs and extracurricular activities are handled, and whether sports are played and can be attended. 

 

What Entering College Freshmen Need to Know 

The goal for all schools is ultimately the same: To ensure they have a full freshman class.

The uncertainty caused by the pandemic has impacted how colleges are managing the incoming class.

To achieve their enrollment goals for 2020-2021, some colleges have larger wait lists, while some have offered to waive deposit requirements.

Some continue to provide more financial aid (need-based and merit). 

Financial Aid Appeals for More Need-Based Aid

If you didn’t previously request aid, or fill out the FAFSA, it may not be too late. 

From the Federal Student Aid website: “Many states and colleges set priority deadlines by which you must submit the FAFSA form to be considered for the aid programs they administer. There is also a federal deadline each academic year.” 

The FAFSA has a 21-month application cycle that begins on October 1, nine months before the start of the award year, and ends on June 30, the last day of the award year.

The deadline for submitting FAFSA for this coming academic year (2020 – 2021) is June 30, 2021. 

Reach out to your school’s financial aid office and ask for their deadline and if they require any other forms in addition to the FAFSA, such as the CSS Profile and/or their own paperwork.

If you did receive aid but your circumstances have changed, such as a parent losing their job, contact the school’s financial aid office and ask for guidance on the appeals process.

Most appeals will fall under “special circumstances,” and you’ll need to write a short summary of them, providing clear documentation for your claim. 

Tip: Try this free financial-aid appeal letter tool: Swift Student.

Appeals for Merit-Based Aid

For those who received merit scholarships but are experiencing financial difficulty, it’s a good time to go back to your college admissions office and ask if there’s additional merit money available.

Here’s why: When students with merit offers declined admission in May and June, that money is usually made available again for other students.  

Student Loans

Be aware that the rates on federal loans and Parent PLUS loans are at historic lows.

Interest rates for federal student loans for the 2020 – 2021 academic year will be 2.75% and Parent PLUS loans will be 5.3%.

If students need to borrow, they should always use the maximum amount offered through federal student loans in the student’s name first, as those often come with unique benefits – such as income-based repayment plans, not often found in private loans. 

Families that need to borrow additional funds can consider other options such as a private student loan, private parent loan, or a Parent PLUS loan. With private student loans, typically a student will need a cosigner, like a parent, to qualify for the loan and both parties are equally responsible for repayment. If you consider a private parent or Parent PLUS loan, you are solely responsible for the loan.  

Depending on your credit, families may be able to find private loans with lower rates.

Some lenders like College Ave,  offer a pre-qualification tool that lets you see if you qualify for a loan and what rates you can personally expect without hurting your credit.

Do your research and compare your options.

Colleges Still Accepting Applications

If you’re thinking of changing schools for any reason related to COVID-19,  check out this list of colleges from the National Association for College Admission Counseling that are still accepting applications. 

Plans for How Colleges Will Open

Schools are still weighing whether to open this fall, and if they do, how they’ll proceed. 

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, of the nearly 860 schools they are following, two-thirds are planning to resume in-person instruction. For more information on what, as a result of COVID-19, college might be like this fall, see the What Will School Be Like This Fall? section below.

 

What Current College Students Need to Know

Change in Family Finances?

If your financial situation has changed as a result of COVID-19, it’s not too late to submit the FAFSA or to request an appeal to your student’s aid package.

See the helpful information above in What Entering College Freshmen Need to Know for details that also apply to continuing college students. 

College Ave Survey Results – Paying for College

A recent survey of over 1,000 college students by College Ave Student Loans indicated that, as a result of the pandemic, finances were a top concern when it came to returning to school–41% of students said that they were less confident in their ability to afford college compared to before COVID-19.

Most also said that the pandemic has strongly impacted their academic and mental health. 

Of those who said they felt financially affected by COVID-19, nearly 60% said that they will need to borrow more money, and plan on researching more scholarships or using more of their own or their family’s savings.

What Will School Be Like This Fall?

The biggest change for the fall will be how classes are offered–online, on-campus, or a hybrid. 

For those schools reopening campus, a variety of changes have been suggested and may become part of the new normal: Staggering days that students attend; adding more classes in the evening to keep class sizes lower; holding fall classes outdoors; ending on-campus classes by Thanksgiving, then going online for the rest of the semester; and/or extending the school year.

This will vary by school. 

Stanford, for example, has just announced plans to have two classes of undergraduates return to campus in each quarter of the 2020-2021 academic year including next summer, according to The Stanford Daily. 

The plan is still tentative, but all undergraduates would be offered two quarters of campus housing, and would be expected to complete at least one additional quarter remotely.

In the fall, first-year students would live on campus, and then in the spring, seniors. 

Masks, frequent handwashing, and use of hand sanitizer will be encouraged, and, in some cases, required.

Students will also be monitored for symptoms of COVID-19. How this happens (apps, emails, texts, etc.), and how frequently it will need to be done, is still very much in discussion.

The goal is to be able to test, trace, and isolate to prevent the spread of the virus.

How students will live is another factor being determined, including considering groups of students who share rooms or suites as units much like a family.

If someone from the unit gets sick, the rest get quarantined. 

For those schools resuming college sports, seating will likely be spread out to allow for social distancing.

Food service will need to change how they provide meals. Self-serve buffets will be a thing of the past.

Options will vary from picking up a to-go meal, to dining halls with social distancing tables, to delivery service–all options being discussed. 

Some schools have had to make budget cuts and implement hiring freezes in their career centers.

This will mean a reduction in support for soon-to-be graduates, and recent graduates entering the job market. 

Those budget cuts and hiring freezes extend to all aspects of running schools; as a result, they may have fewer course options and areas of study, and less staff in a variety of areas on campus.

Some of these changes will likely not take effect until the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

 

News About Admissions and Colleges Will Continue to be In Flux

The big take-away is that everything is in flux, and the best way to stay on top of things is to frequently check individual school websites, the College Board, and Road2College for updates. 

Things will most definitely look different when and if school opens on campus again. But different is a whole lot better than not being able to pursue an education, interests, and a career. 

This article was sponsored by College Ave Student Loans. Visit their site to learn more about private student loans. Their tool section, including an easy-to-use student loan calculator, enables families to compare loan options and determine which loan configuration is best for them.  


Melissa T. Shultz

Melissa T. Shultz

Melissa T. Shultz is a writer, and the acquisitions editor for Jim Donovan Literary, an agency that represents book authors. She's written about health and parenting for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Reader's Digest, AARP’s The Girlfriend, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Next Avenue, NBC’s Today.com and many other publications. Her memoir/self-help book From Mom to Me Again: How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented the Rest of My Life was published by Sourcebooks in 2016.
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