What Are Your Financial Options if Your College Moves Online or Is Cancelled in the Fall - Student Research Foundation

What Are Your Financial Options if Your College Moves Online or Is Cancelled in the Fall?

New College Freshmen . . .

This is the time of year when high school seniors have traditionally made their final college selections, mailed in deposits, bought college apparel, contacted their future roommates, and gotten ready to make the exciting transition to college.

But now students, their families and colleges all seem to be in the same pickle, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Here are just a few of the issues that have risen to the surface.

  • Students, especially those who will be starting their first year of college in the fall, do not know what to expect. Will they be going to campus for orientation over the summer? When will they meet their roommates face-to-face? Are they really going to move to campus, or will they be sitting at home attending classes online? And if that is the case, how long will that continue? Returning students are facing similar concerns. Will they be able to return to campus and pick up where they left off?
  • Parents are having an especially difficult time figuring out what will happen. If college happens online or is delayed or canceled in the fall, can they get a refund? If family finances have been hurt during the crisis, can families apply for more financial aid? And are colleges planning to increase financial aid packages that they have already offered to students?
  • Colleges are faced with unprecedented problems too, depending on their size, financial resources, admissions policies, and other variables. As we enter May, most colleges are still behaving as though they expect to open their campuses and hold classes as usual in the fall. But will that really happen? There are many questions. Smaller schools with small endowments are concerned that only a small percentage of the students they have accepted will decide to attend. If large numbers of families, hit by financial hardship, will apply for additional financial aid, how will that affect both college resources and the size of incoming classes? And colleges that have been attracting large numbers of foreign students know that could change this year.

The Most Uncertain Fall Season Ever

If you are a parent or a student, how can you reduce uncertainties and increase the odds that college will get off to a normal – or nearly normal – start in the autumn?

Delay making a commitment to a college. As you know, May 1st is the day when American colleges have traditionally required commitments from incoming students. Some colleges, in recognition of the current crisis, have delayed that deadline by a month. Even if the college you are planning to attend hasn’t officially delayed its commitment date – or if you have already committed to attend – you can still contact the college and ask for an extension on the basis of financial hardship or even general uncertainty. Why should you? One reason is that in a month, you and the college will probably have a better idea of what will really happen in the fall – whether classes will resume and other basic issues. Also, another month could allow time to apply for student loans and take other steps to finance college expenses.

Establish a personal relationship with an admissions officer at the college you are planning to attend. It is an effective way to learn sooner about what could really be happening on campus in the fall. And if you need to apply for increased financial aid, your contact can offer advice and direction on how to proceed.

Above All, Think Like a Smart Customer

This year, perhaps more than ever before, colleges want you or your son or daughter to enroll and start college in the fall. They know that their ability to attract an incoming student class, and to have full classes of current students return to campus, is critical to maintaining their college rankings and to attract students in the future.

So whether you are an incoming student or the parent of one, you have more influence over your college than you might realize. Do not hesitate to call the financial aid office to ask for help in securing additional funding, for example. Do not hesitate to ask about whether refunds will be given if classes are canceled. Do not hesitate to ask whether athletic scholarships will be given, even if seasons are canceled.

And do not hesitate to ask about how the campus is being sanitized and made safe for students, faculty and staff.

We believe this year’s incoming class can still have a wonderful freshman year. But for that to happen, be sure to make the right preparations and ask the right questions today.

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