Figuring Out College Planning in a Time of COVID-19
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
April 23, 2020
Our world is all topsy-turvy. COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of our lives. Hopefully as you read this you and your loved ones are healthy and making your way through this time of turmoil. The world of college admissions has been rocked as well. College visits have become virtual. SAT/ACT testing has been cancelled or postponed. Deadlines are in flux. Families need some guidance about how to make some college decisions in today’s environment of big changes. We’ve gathered up some of the biggest issues right now and are sharing them here for you.
In March, ACT moved their April 4 exam to June 13. They will have one more testing date this school year on July 18. The College Board cancelled their May 2 exam date. They are considering adding additional test dates, but currently they only have one more this year on June 6.
For current juniors needing test scores for the fall’s college application season, take a deep breath. Use this time to do some test prep. (PrepAccelerator is one tutoring company offering free online classes.)
Also know this, some colleges are going test-optional for the fall. This means they are not requiring ACT or SAT exam scores. Case Western University and University of California are two examples of colleges suspending their test score requirement for the fall. Keep in mind colleges that offer merit scholarships may still require a test score to qualify. In the admissions decision, more emphasis will be placed on other aspects of your application like GPA.
The College Board has announced changes to the Advanced Placement (AP) exams. International Baccalaureate (IB) have cancelled their end of class exams. We have to wait and see how colleges will treat the awarding of credit for AP and IB classes taken this year. They are just now starting to make those decisions.
Seniors making decisions
High school seniors are being hit especially hard. What was supposed to be a time of joy and celebration has been turned on its head by COVID-19. Graduations and proms have been cancelled or postponed. These last few weeks spent with friends in school are gone. Add to that stress–wrapping up college choices.
With the closing of college campuses, the chance to make those last campus visits went away (for the most part). In addition, deadlines to make that final choice at some (but not all) colleges were extended. Click here to read the list of colleges who have extended their deadline to June 1st.
Students need to stay on top of their email. Colleges are pro-actively reaching out to tell accepted students about virtual visit opportunities, special Q&A webinars, and more. Ohio University is an example of a great web page detailing all the opportunities to learn more, get answers to questions, and connect with both the college and other students.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling is maintain a voluntary list of colleges impacted by COVID-19 with extended deadline dates, changed admission events, and links to applicable websites. The list includes 50 Ohio colleges. For your information, Ohio State has currently NOT extended their decision deadline. It remains May 1st. Other Ohio colleges including the University of Cincinnati, Ohio University, Akron, Kent State, Toledo, Ohio Northern, and Xavier HAVE extended their decision deadline–most to June 1st (some even further out).
Some small colleges are struggling to get their offers to seniors.
Small colleges who lack the large staff had not put out their financial aid offer letters to students at the time of the shut down because of COVID-19. Now they are struggling to catch up. We have seen some big schools putting pressure on potential scholarship recipients to decide now or risk losing that scholarship. Families can only do what they can. If that smaller college is a real favorite, reach out to the financial aid office to touch base and share your situation.
Award letters and appealing the financial aid offer
Every year we share our blog post about comparing financial aid award letters. It is important to revisit that topic here. Be sure you understand what you are looking at so you can compare one offer to another. They may look very different from each other.
Some parents are surprised that you can appeal the financial aid offer in certain situations. Take a moment to review this article. An important thing to remember is that the income you provided on your financial aid application for the the 2020-21 academic year is from two years ago. So if parents have lost their income due to the closing of a business or being laid off, be sure to call and talk with the financial aid office about it. We have already had success with this at some of the top schools in the country. It is always good to have an advocate in your corner. If you worked closely with someone in the admissions department be sure to reach out to them and see if they can be of any assistance to make sure your voice is heard. You will need to verify the change in your financial situation, but colleges may have some leeway in their decisions and they truly do wan to provide students with the financial assistance they need. The worst thing that happens is that they tell you no, but it is important to talk with someone about it.
As an aside, we’d like to mention a website that might be helpful–TuitionFit.org. Created by friend of Capstone, Mark Salisbury, TuitionFit allows you to see actual financial aid award letters from students who uploaded theirs. Once you submit your award letter, students can opt in to have other colleges contact them that will offer a more generous financial aid package.
Seniors, Consider a gap year.
We have written about the important pros and cons to think about when considering a gap year. Sometimes students choose to spend a year doing something else before starting their college journey. This year, we anticipate a greater number of gap year students than in years past due to COVID-19. Colleges are a bit nervous about it. Typically, students request a deferment on their admission from the college. We can’t be sure if colleges will grant that deferment if they are bombarded with requests. They need to fill their class. We also can’t be sure how a surge in deferments will affect the following year’s class. Will colleges have fewer spaces available to new applicants?
Regardless of the impact on the college, carefully think through the impact of a gap year and whether it is best for the student prior to making that decision.
Consider Distance Learning at a Community College
Community colleges are always a cost cutting measure to consider, but especially given the current environment. First off, you will want to understand the transferability of the credits that you earn at a community college towards a degree at a 4 year college. For example in Ohio “The Ohio Guaranteed Transfer Pathways (OGTPs) are designed to provide a clearer path to degree completion for students pursuing associate degrees who plan to transfer to an Ohio public university to complete their bachelor’s degree.” Essentially you can earn up to 2 years (60 credits) at a community college and they will transfer to a state school as well as an expanding number of private colleges. The tuition is as much as 60% less than our traditional 4 year colleges. With the uncertainty that lies ahead, if you are going to be doing distance learning anyway it is worth considering doing it at a discount.
We’re all in this together.
This is important to remember. COVID-19 has caused the college admissions folks to make changes to their processes as well, and we can’t tell what the fall will look like. However, everyone is flexible. Colleges know this is a weird time. They know juniors didn’t get one more chance to take the SAT. They know students had to go pass/fail instead of getting a letter grade their last semester. All these unprecedented situations apply to everyone. We’ll roll with the punches and see how it goes–being as prepared as we can be.