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College Decisions and Coronavirus

By Terry Savage on May 10, 2020

For the first time in memory, students have the upper hand in college admissions – but only if they have enough money to play that hand.

It’s no secret that as the traditional May 1 deadline for confirming attendance and posting deposits is being extended. Colleges have grown more concerned about two key problems: how and where they will provide an education, and whether they will have students willing to pay for it!

They know that some freshmen will base their decision on whether the campus will be open, or whether the first semester will take place online. Even brand name schools are feeling the pinch. Parents are wondering whether it is worthwhile to pay for a prestige university if their daughter is sitting at a computer in her bedroom?

As a result, many schools are already accepting students off their waiting lists, worried about filling their classes, says Casey Near, Executive Director of Counseling at Collegewise.com. But like the schools, she recognizes it will be difficult for some families to make a commitment, not knowing how long family income might be impacted by the economic slowdown.

The anxiety in making plans is a real issue, according to Rick Castellano of Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest private student loan provider. A recent poll shows that more than half of college students they contacted had a parent or guardian who had lost a job. And one in six who had already made a deposit reported they had changed their plans and decided not to enroll full-time at a four-year college in the fall.

Think twice about taking a “gap year” advises Nears. “Consider the alternatives and think about what you would do that would be more interesting than taking courses online at your top choice school. Travel is likely out. And getting a part time job -if you can find one—just puts you a year behind your contemporaries.”

Even worse, not all schools will be willing to accept all students who want to take a deferral or a gap year. Also, any classes you take at a local community college online may not be transferable credits, notes Nears. So be very careful about making this decision out of emotion.

So what should families be doing now to make that important decision? Here’s some advice:

Already accepted but need more financial aid now? Contact the college admissions office immediately and explain how loss of family income jeopardizes your plans to attend college. Don’t be afraid to ask for additional grants or work/study programs.

Accepted but didn’t file for financial aid? You have until June 30th to file FAFSA for this fall. You may not have thought your family would be eligible for Federal student loans, but changing circumstances could now qualify you. It’s worth filling out the application at FAFSA.ed.gov.

Accepted but not sure you can attend, even with more aid? Contact the school admissions office immediately and ask for an extension of time to file your acceptance and deposit. Also ask if you will be required to pay room and board during any period of online learning. And it’s not unheard of to ask for a discount on tuition!

Already posted a deposit, then accepted off wait-list at a school you prefer? You can’t have two deposits and commitments at the same time. And the wait-listed school might demand a decision within 24 to 48 hours after they accept you and offer an aid package. Be ready to consider both deals, comparing all costs after aid, including travel – as well as whether the program will be online or on campus.

Yes, these are uncertain times. The high school class of 2020 missed its graduation and proms and final sporting events. So, it’s easy to fall into despair about college. But just like all financial crises, this era will soon be part of history. Your education, on the other hand, will always be part of your future.

That’s why it’s so important to make calm and sensible decisions about the value (and cost) of your college education now. And that’s The Savage Truth.

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