How to Pay for College in the Fall When COVID-19 Has Changed Your Reality
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
May 15, 2020
You did everything right. You planned out how to pay for college in four years just like we recommend. Then along comes COVID-19 and suddenly your reality has changed. Maybe a parent lost a job and their health insurance. Your business took a direct hit. A student’s summer employment and potential savings are in question. You’re not sure if that work-study position will be available if classes have moved online again in the fall. According to a study by Nitrocollege.com, “69% of parents and 55% of students say coronavirus has impacted their ability to pay for college.” We are in unprecedented times, and we don’t have perfect answers because so much is in motion. However, here are some things we want you to think about.
This may sound crazy, but consider applying to another college.
Believe it our not, many colleges are still accepting applications for fall. They can be soon-to-be freshmen or even transfers. Check out this list of colleges still accepting applications. If you search by state (Ohio) and still accepting freshmen applications (yes), you’ll find 41 colleges still considering applications for fall. Students can choose to attend a college closer to home or one that is simply less expensive.
Think about starting at community college in a guaranteed transfer program.
Community college can save you thousands of dollars, and many have transfer agreements where you are guaranteed admission to a partner state college–like Columbus State Community College’s Preferred Pathway. This option keeps students closer to home in case health concerns arise.
Revisit your financial aid.
Families completed their FAFSA agreements back in the fall. They were a snapshot of their financial situation at that point in time. Fast forward to now, and things may have changed.
If a parent has lost a job or has unexpected medical expenses, reach out the financial aid department to appeal your need-based award. Be sure to document your correspondence. Ask about revising your FAFSA. Don’t delay in the ask. Many may be in the same situation.
Be careful about simply taking a year off.
Gap years need to be approved by the college and need to have a specific plan. Each college may approach this differently in our current climate. Colleges will place limits on the number of college credits students earn during the deferred period. (Some colleges do not allow students to take any college courses during this time.) Financial aid is not guaranteed (although is possible). Structured gap year programs such as those including travel may not happen. Employment is uncertain. Students may also struggle to jump back into the critical thinking needed in college after taking a year off. A gap year may be just right for your child–just think it through carefully.
Think about taking advantage of the payment plan offered by the college.
Most colleges have some form of payment plan spread out over a certain number of months. In our current climate, colleges are allowing for more options. For example, Auburn is allowing plans of 4, 3, or 2 months with each starting at a later date (June, July, or August). There is a fee for this option. ($45 per semester in Auburn’s case.) Spreading out the payments may help families pay for college in more reasonable chunks instead of one big check.
Other options include looking for more local scholarships and considering student loans. Know that so many are in the same boat. Things have changed, and colleges are more flexible. They need students to stay financial healthy so don’t be afraid to reach out for their assistance. Consider all the options–even if fall doesn’t look exactly like you thought it would.